Recent Blog Posts

  • New Utility Debt Collection Restrictions Actually Expand Collection Authority

    Authored by: on Sunday, August 9th, 2009

    The General Assembly recently enacted SL 2009-302, with the stated purpose of prohibiting “cities and counties that operate public enterprises from using certain debt collection practices that result in a customer being liable for the past due and unpaid debts of another person.” The new act does not prohibit any debt collection practices that were not already prohibited under existing law, though. In fact, the new act actually expands local governments’ debt collection authority, albeit under limited circumstances. Let us look at the provisions in detail. Read more »

  • Issues That Have Been Decided and the Motion to Reconsider

    Authored by: on Friday, August 7th, 2009

    Here’s a situation that comes up in phone calls several times a year.  The board passes some kind of motion – adopting an ordinance, establishing a policy, making an appointment – and a meeting or two later one or more members think they may want to change their minds.  When the matter gets raised, someone on the board asserts that only a person who voted with the majority can bring the matter back up again.  Is that right? Read more »

  • The Revaluation Revolts of 2009

    Authored by: on Thursday, August 6th, 2009

    Property tax revaluations conducted in the midst of the national economic crisis ignited an explosion of taxpayer outrage across the state in early 2009.  Assuming the local housing market woes continue, counties implementing revaluations in the next few years would be wise to learn from this year’s experience and prepare for similar taxpayer unrest.  The most important lesson?  A county contemplating the postponement of its revaluation should make that decision sooner rather than later, else it risks facing the wrath of the Department of Revenue in addition to that of its taxpayers. Read more »

  • Limited Public Forum Analysis Revisited

    Authored by: on Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

    When it comes to litigation involving freedom of expression in public places, the three-part forum analysis is, by now, pretty familiar. There’s the traditional public forum, the nonpublic forum, and the limited (sometimes called “designated” or “quasi”) public forum.  Courts consistently use these categories to analyze what kinds of restrictions government can impose without impinging on constitutional rights. The three types of forums are generally thought to represent a spectrum or continuum, with the nonpublic forum representing the greatest degree of allowable governmental restrictions on expressive activity, and the traditional public forum representing the most limited. But not all of these categories are created equal. Read more »

  • Change orders: How much change is too much?

    Authored by: on Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

    As anyone who has been involved in a construction project knows, construction almost always involves unexpected costs.  The North Carolina General Statutes give local governments the flexibility to address these costs through change ordersG.S. 143-129(e)(4) says that the bidding laws do not apply to work undertaken “during the progress of” a construction project that was originally bid either formally (under G.S. 143-129) or informally (under G.S. 143-131).  In other words, if a local government bids out a construction or repair project, and then, in the course of the project, discovers an unanticipated problem that will require additional work (and increased cost), the local government does not have to bid out that additional work.  But what are the limits of this exception?  When does the cost or scope of the change order take it outside of this exception?  Is a $1 million change order too much?  Or $500,000 (the formal bidding limit for construction projects)?  Is 50% of the original contract cost too much?  25%?  10%?
    Read more »

  • Smoking: What Is A Restaurant?

    Authored by: on Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

    Shortly after the 2010 New Years’ celebrations have died down, smoking will be prohibited in most restaurants and bars across the state. In addition, local governments will have new authority to regulate smoking in many public places. The new law can be seen here and my summary of it is in this Health Law Bulletin from May 2009.

    One of the definitional issues that I have been struggling with recently relates to use of the term “restaurant.” Read more »

  • Amending the Budget Ordinance—

    Authored by: on Monday, August 3rd, 2009

    Anxieties are running high among many local government officials as they await the adoption of the State’s budget to learn the fate of local revenue sources. In fact, according to a July 30, 2009, bulletin update from the North Carolina League of Municipalities, pursuant to State budget negotiations as of that date, counties and municipalities potentially stand to lose at least a portion of their beer and wine tax proceeds, resulting from state excise taxes on beer, fortified wine and unfortified wine. The prospective aggregate loss to local governments is $33 million. The revenue loss to any one local unit may not be substantial. But, because many, if not most, local governments already have adopted their budget ordinances for this fiscal year, local units are going to have to make at least some adjustments. Which raises the question, what are the rules governing if, when, and how a local unit may amend its budget ordinance once it has been adopted? Read more »