Recent Blog Posts

  • Zoning Religious Land Uses

    Authored by: on Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

    From the nation’s largest city to North Carolina’s smallest towns, land use regulation of religious uses can be particularly contentious. While the siting a mosque in lower Manhattan morphed from a local zoning dispute into a national political and policy debate in the past few weeks, the town of Coats (population 2,126) in Harnett County found itself in federal court defending its zoning restrictions on locating places of worship in its small downtown area.

    Religious uses have land use impacts, just as their secular counterparts. Large places of worship create the same traffic, noise, and congestion issues as do other places of assembly of comparable size. The fact that a community center, event space, school, daycare, homeless shelter, or food pantry is sponsored by a religious rather than a secular organization usually makes no difference in its land use impacts. So a basic proposition that religious land uses should be subject to the same land use regulations as their comparable secular counterparts makes sense and is noncontroversial, right?

    Temple of Israel, Wilimington, completed in 1876 and North Carolina's first synagogue (1902 photo)

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  • Are N.C. property tax assessments underwater?

    Authored by: on Thursday, August 12th, 2010

    For two years now we’ve read story after story about the increasing number of homes that are mortgaged for far more than they are now worth.  A recent report by the N.C. Department of Revenue suggests that for the first time a similar problem may be afflicting property tax assessments across the state.  Last year, real property tax assessments exceeded market value in 31 of North Carolina’s 100 counties.  These figures suggest that many city and county tax bases are overvalued.  What does this mean for local government finances in North Carolina? Read more »

  • Individual Board Member Access to Email

    Authored by: on Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

    Imagine that you’re a local government IT administrator, clerk, manager, or other employee, and your job requires you to have access to employee and board members emails for your unit of local government. A member of your governing board contacts you and says, “I need to review all the emails sent to or received by the HR director during the past week.” Your first instinct is – “Hey, this is my boss – an elected official – asking me for information. I’d better provide it!” “But then again,” you think, “Some of this information might be confidential. Some of it might be personal.” Then you have another thought, “How do I know if the board member has a legitimate reason for asking, or is she just out to get this particular employee?” Who is allowed to have access to email? How should you respond?

    The short answer is: An individual board member is just like any other member of the public when he or she requests individual access to employee emails. The board may have access to some emails that the public doesn’t, but an individual board member doesn’t have any special access unless a majority of the board has authorized it. A different rule applies to school board and community college board members with regard to personnel records, because of the language in the statutes that govern those types of agencies. Here’s the long answer. Read more »

  • 2010 Public Health Legislation: Vaccines and Pimiento Cheese

    Authored by: on Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

    I am in the process of coordinating the Local Government Legislative Review Webinar scheduled for this Thursday, August 12 from 10-12 (it’s not too late to register!).  We have a fantastic and diverse lineup of presenters talking about everything from ABC changes to zoning for video sweepstakes.  As the faculty coordinator for the program, I was feeling some pressure to present some content about public health or animal control law. After working through the agenda, I ultimately decided not to present my riveting update on the regulation of pimiento cheese sandwiches. But, for those of you who are just dying to know what happened, I’ll tell you here. I’ll also review some important changes to our state’s vaccine program. Read more »

  • Changes to Statewide 911 System that Impact Local Governments

    Authored by: on Thursday, August 5th, 2010

    In 2007 the General Assembly enacted legislation (effective January 1, 2008) establishing a consolidated system for administering both wireline and wireless 911 systems across the State. (Prior to that date, the Wireless 911 Board administered a statewide wireless 911 system, and local governments administered wireline (landline) 911 systems.) The Act (S.L. 2007-383 (H1755)) created a new 911 Board and authorized the Board to develop a comprehensive state plan for communicating 911 call information across networks and among public safety answering points (PSAPs)—defined as the public safety agencies the receive incoming 911 calls and dispatch appropriate public safety agencies to respond to the calls.

    The Act also authorized the 911 Board to levy a monthly service charge on each active voice communications service connection (defined as each telephone number assigned to a residential or commercial subscriber by a voice communications service provider) which is capable of accessing the 911 system. It set the monthly service charge at 70 cents (requiring the 911 Board to reduce the fee under certain circumstances). And the Act directed that certain proceeds from the 911 charge be remitted to qualifying primary PSAPs (first point of reception of 911 calls) according to a statutory formula. Other proceeds from the 911 charge were reserved for grants to PSAPs in rural and high-cost areas. The Act required that local governments that received 911 funds deposit the monies in Emergency Telephone System Fund accounts and expend the funds only for a limited number of statutory purposes.

    The General Assembly modified the statutory allocation of 911 funds in 2008 (S.L. 2008-134 (S1704)) to give the 911 Board greater flexibility in determining the appropriate distribution of 911 funds among PSAPs and other qualifying entities. And, in 2009, the S.L. 2009-574 (H945) authorized a study committee to, among other things, review expanding the allowable uses of 911 funds by PSAPs.

    This year the General Assembly enacted S.L. 2010-158 (H1691), which made further changes to the new 911 system, including modifying the membership of the 911 Board, altering the distribution of 911 funds to primary PSAPs, and expanding the allowable use of 911 funds by the PSAPs. Read more »

  • Conflicts of Interest and Subcontractors

    Authored by: on Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

    One of your city council members, Georgia Peach, is a plumber, and owns her own plumbing business, Peaches & Plumbs, LLP.  Peaches & Plumbs often subcontracts with one of the bigger and more reputable general contractors in town, Constructive Construction, Inc.  Your city is getting ready to renovate the town hall, and, as it turns out, the lowest responsive bid is from Constructive Construction.  If you determine that Constructive Contractors is a responsible bidder, can you award the contract to them, knowing that they’re likely to subcontract with Peaches & Plumbs?  Doesn’t that create a conflict for Georgia Peach? Read more »

  • Extending Permit Extension

    Authored by: on Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

    Remember the permit extension legislation from last fall that was designed to give developers, lenders, and property owners a reprieve from all of those governmental permits expiring? You know, the legislation that suspended development permits from running during the period from the beginning of 2008 through the end of this year. Well, just about the time this three-year tolling of permit expiration was about to wind down, the General Assembly, with some considerable prodding by the development community, acted to allow the suspension of permit expiration to continue for one more year. Developers, lenders, and government permitting personnel—no need to rev up your engines just yet. Read more »