Listicle: 6 ways to move power from cities to rural areas

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by Brian Clarey

1. Surprise legislation

The way it normally works is that each year a city council or county commission decides on a legislative package to be sent to Raleigh to become ratified as ordinances or bond items or whatever laws the group has decided to change. But because of the way state law is written, action can be introduced by a state official without instruction from these lower bodies. It’s how Republican Sen. Trudy Wade introduced an item redrawing districts for the Guilford County School Board  — explicitly against the board’s wishes — in 2013. Now she’s pulling from the same playbook in an attempt to change the makeup of Greensboro City Council (see this week’s editorial on page 13)

2. Redraw districts

When the Republican-controlled legislature redrew the state’s Senate districts in 2011, the 27th was recast from an urban district that covered most of Greensboro to a rural district that excised most of the city, save for a finger in the west. The city went to District 28, beefing up a majority-minority district represented by Gladys Robinson who took it in 2010. Trudy Wade won District 27 in 2012, defeating Myra Slone in the race.

3. Cut historic tax credits

North Carolina cities have been using historic tax credits to rejuvenate their downtown districts and outlying areas in earnest since 1998, when a 20 percent tax credit was allowed for rehabilitation of old buildings. Natty Greene’s in Greensboro and Winston-Salem’s West End Mill Works are all examples of dead space being revitalized for economic activity in the last 15 years. The legislature in 2014 allowed the state credits to sunset, bringing an end to all that.

4. Make cuts to education

City school districts serve exponentially more students than rural ones, which means they are more greatly affected by across-the-board cuts to education that have been coming in a steady stream since 2010. Last year Greensboro voters weighed in on a special sales tax that would give more money to our schools so they could keep up with current standards after the newest round of cuts came into play. It was defeated by almost 15 percent.

5. End city privilege tax

Last year the General Assembly voted to repeal legislation that allowed cities to collect privilege taxes for businesses operating within city limits, relieving Greensboro’s tax coffers by about $3.2 million, costing Winston-Salem an estimated $2.5 million and giving the city of High Point an $800,000 haircut.

6. Create regional authorities

In  2013, state Sen. Tom Apodaca (R-Henderson), chair of the Senate Rules Committee, told a Asheville Citizen-Times reporter: “There definitely is a feeling that the cities have too much power, and many times they have too much power over the county…. I think cities have been given carte blanche over the past 25, 30 years, and now they’re seeing some pushback.” He was speaking specifically to a move greenlighted in the General Assembly that transferred control over Asheville’s city water system to a regional authority. A similar mentality was at work when the GA attempted to sieze Charlotte’s Douglas Airport from city control and hand it to a hastily constructed regional authority stocked with political appointees, a move blocked by the FAA, which won’t empower the authority without city consent.