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  • New Limitation on Animal Control Ordinances

    Authored by: on Thursday, September 3rd, 2015

    Recently enacted legislation restricts local government authority to adopt ordinances that “regulate standards of care for farm animals.” S.L. 2015-192. This change has implications for existing animal-related ordinances, specifically those related to animal cruelty and exotic animals. Local governments will want to review their animal ordinances and enforcement practices to ensure their programs comply with this new limitation. This post summarizes the new law and explores how this change intersects with existing state and local animal laws in these two areas.  Read more »

  • The Candidate’s Pledge under North Carolina Law

    Authored by: on Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015

    Want to run for elective office in North Carolina—state legislature, governor, county commissioner, sheriff, or some other office?  For most offices you’ll have to run in the primary election of your party.  (A few offices—mainly city councils and school boards—are nonpartisan and do not have party primaries.)  To run in the party primary, you’ll have to file a notice of candidacy and pay a filing fee.  If you are in fact on the books as a member of the party, are at least 21 years old, are not currently serving a sentence for a felony, and are a bona fide resident of the appropriate jurisdiction, your name goes on the primary ballot and you are on the way to being your party’s nominee, with a spot on the general election ballot—if enough people vote for you.

    But wait, there’s one more step.  The law requires you to sign a pledge:  “I pledge that if I am defeated in the primary, I will not run for the same office as a write-in candidate in the next general election.”  That pledge is set out in a statute, G.S. 163-106.  Look here. Read more »

  • Local Government Impact Fee Authority for Public Enterprises Revisited

    Authored by: on Monday, August 31st, 2015

    In a previous post, I questioned the authority of local governments to impose impact fees on new development for water and sewer services. The North Carolina Court of Appeals recently issued an unpublished opinion holding that the Town of Carthage has authority under the public enterprise statutes to impose such impact fees. The case is a win for Carthage. Because the opinion is unpublished, however, it has no precedential value in other jurisdictions. Furthermore, the court’s analysis of the issue provides little prospective guidance to other units about the legality of current or proposed public enterprise impact fees. The court does not appear to follow the framework established by the North Carolina Supreme Court for statutory interpretation. And the court also does not squarely address seeming contradictory case law precedent. That said, the case might serve as a roadmap for other local governments faced with a similar challenge to their impact fee authority.

    This post summarizes the case and the court’s analysis. It also raises additional considerations for units considering imposing (or continuing to impose) impact fees on new development. Read more »

  • Business Registration Programs: A Few Questions and Answers

    Authored by: on Friday, August 28th, 2015

    My colleague Chris McLaughlin has blogged repeatedly about the legal impact of the General Assembly’s repeal last year of the statutory authority for most local privilege license taxes (“LPLTs”). (See his blog posts here, here, and here.) Local governments – primarily cities – have lost significant revenue as a result of the repeal. While the loss of revenue is problematic, local officials have raised other concerns associated with the elimination of LPLTs. In particular, they have noted that the demise of most LPLTs has deprived them of an important source of information about who is doing business within their borders. Such information could have a variety of uses relevant to the public’s well-being. For example, it could help a city identify the right person to contact about dangerous conditions on business property.

    Some local governments are considering business registration programs as a way to keep track of local businesses, and a few have actually moved forward with implementation. These programs lie in uncharted legal territory, and faculty members at the School of Government have received questions about them. This blog post provides answers to a few of the most common questions. Read more »

  • AOC Database is Not Subject to the Public Records Act

    Authored by: on Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

    In 2011, LexisNexis submitted a request under the North Carolina Public Records Act (Chapter 132 of the General Statutes) to the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), and to the Wake County Clerk of Court for a complete copy of the Automated Criminal/Infraction System (ACIS) database. ACIS is an electronic compilation of criminal records. Records are added to the database by individual Superior Court Clerks, but the database is administered and maintained by the AOC. The AOC declined to produce the database arguing that the AOC is not the custodian of the records that are stored in the database, and that access to the database is governed exclusively by G.S. 7A-109(d), which authorizes the AOC to enter into contracts and charge a fee for providing remote electronic access to court records. The Wake County Clerk of Court also declined the request arguing that she is not the custodian of the entire database. LexisNexis sued the AOC and the clerk. The Court of Appeals held that the AOC, and not the clerk of court, is the custodian of the database, and that LexisNexis is entitled to copy of it under the Public Records Act. The North Carolina Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals decision and held that the LexisNexis request is governed exclusively by G.S. 7A-109 and that the public records law does not apply. The opinion, LexisNexis v. N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts, is here.
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  • Two New Property Tax Laws: Part 1

    Authored by: on Friday, August 21st, 2015

    The General Assembly is still hard at work in Raleigh.  While no huge changes to property taxes have arisen yet this session, there are two new laws worth discussing.  S.L. 2015-204 creates flexibility for waiving interest on old registered motor vehicle (“RMV”) taxes. S.L. 2015-223 creates an exemption for new, unsold residential and commercial properties (similar but larger in scope to the old deferral for new home inventory that expired in 2013).

    Today I’ll discuss S.L. 2015-204, the motor vehicle tax law.  In the coming weeks I’ll tackle S.L. 2015-223, the new construction exemption. Read more »

  • The Nuts and Bolts of Property Tax Bills

    Authored by: on Thursday, August 6th, 2015

    Tis the season for cities and counties to start mailing their 2015-2016 property tax bills. This annual event raises a very basic question: exactly what must and may be included on a property tax bill?

    Surprisingly, the Machinery Act provides detailed guidance about almost every aspect of the property tax process except property tax bills.  This lack of guidance means local governments can decide for themselves about the timing, form, and content of their property tax bills.

    In fact, local governments could choose to skip mailing tax bills entirely, thanks to the Machinery Act provision that charges all of us property owners with notice of our tax obligations even if we don’t receive actual notice in the form of a bill.  I don’t recommend this approach, for lots of obvious reasons (including the possibility that it opens the door for retroactive property tax exemptions).

    Given that local governments have unusual flexibility regarding their property tax bills, here are my thoughts on how best to approach this issue.

    Read more »