Recent Blog Posts

  • Downtown Facade Improvement Programs

    Authored by: on Thursday, January 16th, 2020

    The national Main Street Program touts “coordinated, small-scale facade improvements” in rural downtown commercial districts as having the “power to not only preserve valuable historic resources in rural communities, but also to spur economic growth in the surrounding area.” What local government tools are available and appropriate for encouraging private owners to make facade improvements?

    This post provides an overview of four tools Read more »

  • Court Prohibits Correction of Appraisal Errors

    Authored by: on Wednesday, January 15th, 2020

    Consider this scenario: Carolina County conducts a reappraisal in 2018 in which Tommy TarHeel’s house is appraised at $300,000.  Tommy pays his 2018 and 2019 tax bills at that appraisal value without complaint. But in 2020 Tommy learns that back in late 2017 his neighbor sold an identical house for $250,000.  Tommy decides to appeal his 2020 appraisal. Assuming that the Carolina County assessor agrees with Tommy that the county used the wrong comps and appraised Tommy’s house at too high a value in 2018, may the county lower Tommy’s appraisal for 2020 and future years?

    I’ve always thought the answer this question was, “yes, of course.” An obvious error like that should not remain on the tax rolls once it comes to the attention of the assessor.  I think most assessors would agree with me. But a recent N.C. Court of Appeals decision suggests that we may have been wrong all along. Read more »

  • Short-Term Rentals: Dwelling Units or Transient Accommodations?

    Authored by: on Thursday, January 2nd, 2020

    A town’s zoning ordinance requires that all structures within a residential zoning district meet the definition of “dwelling unit.” The town ordinance defines “dwelling unit” to mean, “a building, or portion thereof, designed and arranged and used for living quarters for one or more persons with cooking facilities, but not including structures used for transient occupancy, such as hotels, motels or boarding houses.” The town believes short-term rentals (STRs) are a type of transient accommodation that are prohibited as a land use within the residential zones. A property owner who operates a short-term rental in the R-1 district disagrees. The owner contends that STRs are “dwelling units” under the code. Who’s right?

    Read more »

  • New SOG Bulletin! Human Trafficking of Minors and Young Adults: What Local Governments Need to Know

    Authored by: on Friday, December 20th, 2019

    My colleague, Margaret Henderson, and I are excited to announce a new SOG resource – Human Trafficking of Minors and Young Adults: What Local Governments Need to Know. Youth are particularly vulnerable to traffickers. County and municipal staff in many departments have either spontaneous or deliberate interactions with youth that provide opportunities to lessen those vulnerabilities, identify indicators of trafficking, and intervene when appropriate. Download the bulletin on the School of Government’s website, here. Read more »

  • Is That All There Is? Strategies for Proving a Negative When a Person Alleges That Their Request for Records Has Not Been Fulfilled

    Authored by: on Monday, December 16th, 2019

    The breadth of the North Carolina Public Records Law and the explosion of digital public records have resulted in frequent and voluminous requests for public records. Such requests are time-consuming and often include records that exist only on the personal devices of individual employees and officials. In these situations, the agency must rely on those individuals to search for records and provide access to those records that are responsive to the request. Even after an agency spends extensive time and effort in collecting the records, the requesters may doubt that the agency has actually provided all there is. This issue may end up in litigation with the requester alleging that they have been denied access to public records that they believe exist but that have not been provided. How can the agency prove that the records provided are really are all there is? And how can the requester prove that the agency has not provided records the agency says they don’t have? A North Carolina Court of Appeals case, Ochsner v. N.C. Dept. Revenue, addresses these questions and endorses some strategies that can help break this potential stalemate. Read more »

  • The Impact of a Property Tax Appellate Decision

    Authored by: on Wednesday, December 11th, 2019

    What is the impact of a property tax appellate decision on tax years following the one under appeal?  That’s the dispute at issue in a recent N.C. Court of Appeals decision that required Graham County to return $45,000 in post-appeal taxes.  This blog discusses the details of the case, Miller v. Graham County, and the lessons to be learned from it. Read more »

  • Resources for Local Health Departments on the New Law Requiring Reports of Juvenile Crime Victims to Law Enforcement

    Authored by: on Wednesday, November 27th, 2019

    A new law that requires reports to law enforcement about juvenile victims of certain crimes will take effect on Sunday, December 1. Part I of S.L. 2019-245 (S 199) enacts new G.S. 14-318.6, which makes failing to report certain crimes against juveniles a misdemeanor. My colleague Sara DePasquale summarized the new law in this November 13 blog post.

    As Sara explained, the new law is a universal reporting requirement, applying to all persons age 18 or older. While there are a few exceptions for some individuals with statutory privileges, there are no exceptions for physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, or nurses. Those professionals are subject to the mandatory reporting law, but they are also subject to other laws, such as the HIPAA Privacy Rule, with which they must comply simultaneously.

    I have been working with public health professionals in North Carolina to better understand their questions about the new law, and to develop educational materials for health departments about how their new obligations under the reporting law interact with their obligations under HIPAA. Some new resources about the law that are focused specifically on health departments are now available on the School of Government website. I explain the basics of the law in a 30-minute narrated PowerPoint presentation, available here. (Please note: The presentation is best viewed in a browser other than Chrome. If you use Chrome, you may experience problems with the audio or with the slides advancing. If that occurs, please try viewing in a different browser). A document with a brief summary of the legislation, followed by Q&As focused on local health departments, is available here.