Recent Blog Posts

  • “Fore!” Golf Carts and Local Taxes

    Authored by: on Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017

    Can local governments levy property taxes on residential golf carts? This seemingly simple question doesn’t have a simple answer.  I say yes, but the NC Department of Revenue says no. A good chunk of money hangs in the balance as golf carts grow more popular and more upscale (check out this faux ’57 Chevy cart listed for $15,000!). Read more »

  • The Old “New Overtime Rule” and a Possible New “New Overtime Rule”

    Authored by: on Thursday, November 16th, 2017

    Whatever happened to the “new” FLSA overtime rule that had been due to take effect last December but was stopped when a federal court in Texas issued a nationwide injunction? Employers, many of whom were none too fond it, can be forgiven for wondering whether the 2016 rule is dead. Unfortunately, you can’t put changes to the FLSA salary test behind you yet: in July, the Trump Department of Labor (DOL) issued a Request for Information, apparently signaling an intention to set a new “new” higher minimum salary for overtime exemption, and in October, the Trump DOL appealed the federal court’s final decision in the new rule case. That decision threw the 2016 rule out. Confused? So are a lot of people. Read more »

  • Pleading Waiver of Governmental Immunity: What’s Enough?

    Authored by: on Tuesday, November 14th, 2017

    In lawsuits against units of local government, the general rule is that the trial court must throw out the plaintiff’s claims if the unit raises the defense of governmental immunity and the complaint fails to allege a waiver of that immunity. This blog post looks at how detailed a waiver allegation must be for a complaint to survive an assertion of governmental immunity. Read more »

  • It’s Campaign Season: What Are the Rules About What City and County Officials May Say and Do?

    Authored by: on Monday, October 30th, 2017

    • May a county commissioner make a personal statement during a board meeting to endorse a candidate who is running for a seat on the commission?
    • May she call a press conference on her front lawn to endorse that candidate?
    • May the register of deeds fire a deputy register who is supporting her challenger in the election?
    • May the mayor use her city-issued email account to circulate a statement about her goals for the upcoming term if she is re-elected?
    • May a city or county sponsor a candidate forum?

    Local government elections can raise sticky issues for local government officials and employees. They likely have strong feelings about the candidates and issues, but they may feel a bit constrained about actively campaigning, especially if they support candidates who are running against the current board members. Taxpayers may justifiably oppose any use of public resources to promote particular candidates or issues. State statutes for cities and counties address employee political activity, along with a broader statute that applies to city, counties, and schools, which prohibits the use of public funds to influence an election. This blog post addresses the scope of these statutes as interpreted by state court decisions, and also discusses relevant aspects of free speech law, as it applies to government employees and elected officials. Read more »

  • Hiking for Profit? A Property Tax Exemption Dispute

    Authored by: on Monday, October 23rd, 2017

    Can a land conservancy organization that preserves private land from development and occasionally charges for guided hikes and farm workshops qualify for a charitable property tax exemption? Recent discussions between the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC”) and Buncombe County show how difficult it can be to determine exactly what types of non-profit organizations are “charitable” under North Carolina law.

    I’ve blogged in the past about the increasing number of battles between local governments and non-profits over property tax exemptions.  As non-profits move beyond the traditional “social-services” model (think food banks, homeless shelters, and low-income housing) and mix charitable work with commercial activities, local governments have become more willing to question the non-profits’ property tax exemptions. SAHC’s interaction with Buncombe County follows that same pattern. Read more »

  • Waiving Interest on Property Taxes

    Authored by: on Wednesday, October 11th, 2017

    Here’s a simple rule to remember: local governments can’t waive interest on property taxes whenever they want.

    Where do you find this simple rule?  GS 105-381.  Plus GS 105-380.  But you really need to read those sections in conjunction with GS 105-273(15) otherwise you won’t know that GS 105-380 and GS 105-381 apply to interest as well as taxes. GS 105-348 also plays a role.  And don’t forget that GS 105-312(k) allows for the waiver of interest on unpaid discovery bills.

    Okay, maybe this rule isn’t as simple as it first appears.

    Read more »

  • Tick Tock! The Clock Is Now Running for Zoning Enforcement

    Authored by: on Tuesday, September 26th, 2017

    Jimmy lives on a large lot in a residential area of town.  Back in January 2013, he started a small auto repair shop in the garage behind his house.  You can hardly see the shop from the road because of the house and topography, but Jimmy did post a small sign near his mailbox to direct folks around to “Jimmy’s Auto Repair.” The town’s zoning enforcement officer saw the sign in September 2013.  The zoning ordinance prohibits auto repair in residential districts, so the officer sent a letter to seek compliance. Because of limited staff, many other zoning matters, and the lack of complaints about Jimmy’s operation, the zoning officer has not pursued enforcement any further.  This year a new neighbor moved in next door, saw and heard the auto repair shop, and called the town to complain.  Can the town now enforce the zoning ordinance against Jimmy’s commercial business in this residential area?  The law on this is changing.

    A new law sets specific statutes of limitation for land use enforcement litigation.  This blog explores the new limitations and practical considerations for moving forward.  The new law may spark local governments to initiate additional zoning enforcement actions over the next year (in anticipation of the law’s 2018 effective date) and to take a more proactive stance on zoning enforcement generally. Read more »