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  • How to Deal with Heir Property

    Authored by: on Thursday, November 19th, 2015

    Few things cause more headaches for property tax offices than heir property.  When a taxpayer dies owning real property, listing, exemption eligibility, billing, and enforced collection questions suddenly become very difficult to resolve.

    The traditional approach to resolving these questions is for the tax office to wait until a court administers the dead taxpayer’s estate and identifies the parties who are the rightful new owners of that taxpayer’s property. But that might take years, or it might never happen.

    After discussing the issue with my property law expert colleague Chuck Szypszak and other experienced practitioners, it’s become clear to me that tax offices may change ownership of heir property without waiting for action by a court.  The new approach described below should reduce the time property remains listed in the name of unknown owners and the headaches associated with those listings. Read more »

  • Dealing with Land Uses Not Specifically Addressed in a Zoning Ordinance: The Saga Continues

    Authored by: on Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

    If a person is considering undertaking a particular land use, it is important that they know whether or not that would be allowed by the zoning ordinance.

    It is usually a simple proposition to determine whether or not the use is allowed. The owner finds out how the property is zoned – what zoning district applies to this parcel – and then sees whether the intended use is listed as a permitted use on the property.  The ordinance may provide that the use is always allowed in the applicable zoning district (often referred to as a “use by right” or “permitted use”) or only allowed with a special review (a special or conditional use permit).  If the intended use is prohibited, the person must find a different site or seek to have the property rezoned to a district that allows the intended use.

    But what if the zoning ordinance does not specifically address the intended use? Perhaps it is a new type of land use that was not contemplated when the ordinance was adopted.  If the ordinance is more than a few years old it likely does not address solar farms, sweepstakes parlors or other “new” land uses.  Perhaps it is a use the local government did not anticipate would be proposed in their community, such as a tattoo parlor, race track, or shooting range.  Or perhaps the local government tried to shorten and simplify the ordinance by deleting page after page with detailed listings of specific uses in a permitted use table.

    Whatever the reason, from time to time someone will propose to undertake a type of land use that is not expressly addressed by the ordinance. What happens then?  In recent years our court of appeals has dealt with this question in a series of cases, with the state Supreme Court recently weighing in with some important conceptual guidance. Read more »

  • Repealing Ordinances

    Authored by: on Friday, November 13th, 2015

    The Upsette City Council adopted a controversial ordinance limiting the number of dogs and cats per residence.  Three of the council’s five members lost their seats at the next election to opponents who campaigned on pledges to repeal the pet ordinance.  Almost immediately upon taking office, one of the new members introduced a resolution declaring the ordinance repealed.  The council voted three-to-two in favor of the resolution, and the mayor, who could vote only in the event of a tie, announced that the resolution had been adopted.

    Did the council successfully repeal the pet ordinance? Read more »

  • Post-Election Questions? Blog Posts Have Answers

    Authored by: on Wednesday, November 11th, 2015

    Now that the votes are in, let the questions begin!

    When do new municipal government board members get sworn in and who can administer the oaths of office? What are the requirements for the organizational meeting? What powers do the “lame duck” board members have prior to the changeover? Who is required to take the mandatory ethics training, and what other training is available for new and returning local government board members? Now that I’m elected, can I still contract with the city?

    Coates’ Canons has the answers. This post directs you to some of our archived posts that deal with post-election issues and to information about training and resources for newly elected board members.

    Read more »

  • Expanded Motor Vehicle License Tax Authority for Municipalities

    Authored by: on Monday, November 9th, 2015

    A municipality currently is authorized under general law to levy up to a $5.00 licensing tax on any motor vehicle resident in the municipality (motor vehicle license tax). See G.S. 20-97(b). A municipality’s governing board may levy the tax in the unit’s annual budget ordinance. The revenue generated by the tax is unrestricted; it may be expended for any lawful purpose. Several municipalities have received local act authority to increase the amount of the tax. And, as of July 1, 2016, all municipalities will have the authority to levy up to a $30.00 motor vehicle licensing tax. See Section 29.27A of S.L. 2015-241.

    The expanded tax authority comes with some strings, though. All of the additional revenue that a unit generates from increasing the motor vehicle license tax above the current $5 limit is earmarked for certain expenditures. The earmarks do not apply if a unit continues to only levy the $5.00 tax. They also do not apply if a unit levies a motor vehicle license tax under local act authority.

    The expanded authority is effective as of July 1, 2016. Beginning with the FY2016-17 budget ordinance, if a unit levies a motor vehicle license tax pursuant to general law authority the proceeds from the tax are earmarked as follows: Read more »

  • Writing Off Old Property Taxes

    Authored by: on Monday, November 9th, 2015

    Quick poll question:  does your local government annually write off all property taxes that are more than 10 years old? (I bet everyone reading this post just nodded yes.)  Okay, second poll question: where in the Machinery Act are local governments authorized to write off all taxes that are more than 10 years old?  (I bet everyone reading this post just shrugged.)

    It’s true that most local governments remove old taxes from their books after 10 years. It’s also true that the Machinery Act doesn’t explicitly authorize this approach.  Here’s my analysis of the very common question about what to do with old taxes.  Read more »

  • New Law: Consenting to Medical Treatment for a Child Placed in the Custody of County Department

    Authored by: on Friday, November 6th, 2015

    Through S.L. 2015-136, “An Act to Make Various Changes to the Juvenile Laws Pertaining to Abuse, Neglect, and Dependency,” the General Assembly enacted G.S. 7B-505.1 and G.S. 7B-903.1(e).These two new statutes address medical decision-making authority for a child who is placed in the custody of a county department through an order entered in an abuse, neglect, and dependency action. These new laws apply to all abuse, neglect, and dependency actions that were pending on or filed after October 1, 2015.
    Read more »