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  • 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.
    Read more »

  • 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 »

  • Can the City Tell Me What My New House Has to Look Like?

    Authored by: on Monday, August 3rd, 2015

    A  fast-growing suburban town would like to encourage walkable mixed use neighborhoods. The planning board has proposed adding a new zoning district that would allow higher residential densities provided certain standards are met. The proposed standards include requirements for sidewalks, front porches, and that garage entrances be accessed only from the rear of the property.

    A second town is concerned that most of the new subdivisions built in town in the past few years have included only entry-level housing. The newly adopted comprehensive plan encourages all new large residential developments to provide a full range of housing affordability in order to provide adequate housing opportunities for everyone. A council member now urges action to secure a greater variety of housing, with a particular aim of encouraging more mid- and high-end housing. She has proposed amending the town’s low density residential zoning district to require that all new houses in that district have masonry siding. She suggests an alternative may be to prohibit use of vinyl siding in this zoning district.

    A small resort town wants to preserve its distinctive architectural character. To that end, a local civic group has asked the town council to consider requiring that new houses constructed in existing neighborhoods generally match the scale, colors, and architectural style of existing neighboring homes. The group has also asked that residential structures offered for weekly rental be limited to no more than six bedrooms. The group contends that very large residences offered for short-term rental have land use impacts more akin to a small motel than a residence, so this regulation is needed in order to minimize problems with noise, traffic, and parking and to preserve the existing residential character of their neighborhoods.

    Do North Carolina cities and counties have the authority to adopt regulations like these proposals?

    Newly enacted legislation specifies that North Carolina and local governments do not have the authority to adopt most of these proposed regulations. Read more »

  • When a Local Government Purchases Property at a Tax Foreclosure (Part II)

    Authored by: on Thursday, July 30th, 2015

    Tax fans, I know you’ve been eagerly anticipating the sequel to my last post, which ended in a thrilling cliff-hanger: What must we do with sale proceeds and outstanding taxes after a local government sells property it purchased at a tax foreclosure sale?

    Your wait is over! Read on to learn the stunning conclusion . . . Read more »

  • Trial Court Review of Closed Session Minutes

    Authored by: on Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

    A North Carolina local school board renews its contract with a superintendent for an additional four years. Seven months later, the board meets in closed session to discuss a personnel matter. Immediately after the closed session, the superintendent resigns and the board approves a $200,000 severance payment. The newspaper requests a copy of the closed session minutes. The board responds that the minutes are confidential personnel records and their release would frustrate the purpose of the closed session. The newspaper files a lawsuit to compel the release of unredacted minutes relating to the superintendent’s employment. The board files a motion to dismiss the lawsuit arguing that the records are not subject to disclosure, so the complaint fails to state a claim for which relief can be granted.

    Must the trial court take the board’s word for it that the minutes are entirely confidential, and grant the motion to dismiss? Or should the trial court review the records to determine whether records may lawfully be withheld? The North Carolina Court of Appeals has held that the trial court must review the records. Read more »