Recent Blog Posts

  • 2018 System Development Fee Law Changes

    Authored by: on Tuesday, June 26th, 2018

    In the 2017 legislative session, the General Assembly specifically authorized all local government utility providers to charge upfront fees for water and wastewater services. The legislation, however, limited the types of upfront charges that could be assessed on new development within the unit’s territorial boundaries. A prior post summarized the new law and detailed the new procedural requirements for adopting upfront water or wastewater charges. This post details changes the legislature made to the law during the 2018 legislative session. These changes do not address all of the ambiguities in the SDF law but do clarify certain aspects of calculating, collecting, and administering the fees. Read more »

  • North Carolina Municipalities Authorized to Fund Schools

    Authored by: on Tuesday, June 26th, 2018

    In North Carolina, the majority of funding (approximately 63 percent in aggregate, according to the 2018 Highlights of the North Carolina Public School Budget) for public school operations derives from the state income tax and sales tax proceeds, as appropriated by the state legislature. County governments supplement the state’s operational funding and provide the majority of capital funding for schools, from a combination of property tax and local sales tax proceeds. Municipalities, however, have had no statutory authority under general law to fund schools.

    Effective July 1, 2018, the legislature has altered the public school funding scheme by authorizing a municipality to make appropriations to “supplement funding for elementary and secondary public education” that benefit the residents of the municipality. See Sec. 38.8 of S.L. 2018-5, as amended by Sec. 11.1 of S.L. 2018-97. In some respects, this newly granted authority is broader than that afforded to county governments. It comes with some limitations, though. Read more »

  • Discovering Erroneous Exemptions

    Authored by: on Tuesday, June 26th, 2018

    When property tax geeks like me hear the term “discovery,” our minds don’t usually leap to Marie Curie and the theory of radioactivity or Indiana Jones and the Ark of the Covenant. No, we property tax geeks  dream about more mundane discoveries: the boat that was never listed for taxes by the New Jersey transplant after retiring to Wilmington or the new garage and bonus room that was added to the house down the street by the folks who moved in last year.

    As I describe in this post, property tax discoveries usually involve property like that boat or new addition that was never listed by the taxpayer.  But that’s not the only type of situation where discovery comes into play.  Tax officials must also use the discovery process when confronted with property that received an exclusion or an exemption for which it was not eligible.

    Consider this common scenario.  Grandma Gertie passes away after receiving the 50% elderly and disabled exclusion for many years.  Grandson Greg inherits the house.  Greg isn’t eligible for the elderly and disabled exclusion.  But the tax office doesn’t learn of Gertie’s death for several years and continues to apply that exclusion to Greg’s house.

    How can we solve this problem? Discovery.  Read more »

  • Receivership: A New Tool for Addressing Vacant Problem Properties in North Carolina

    Authored by: on Thursday, June 21st, 2018

    Municipalities across North Carolina have long employed code enforcement tools to address problem properties and abandoned structures. A prior blog post describes the code enforcement options for repair and maintenance of commercial buildings. A book on housing codes describes the code enforcement options for residential structures. A bulletin describes local government authority to carry out inspections of structures. To see how all of North Carolina’s code enforcement tools can come together in a strategic approach, read the report produced by the Center for Community Progress for the City of High Point. Now municipalities have an additional code enforcement tool at their disposal to address problem properties. Effective October 1, 2018,[1] Session Law 2018-65 establishes receivership powers and authorizes North Carolina municipalities to request for a superior court to appoint a receiver to manage a vacant structure that has not complied with a code enforcement order. These vacant problem properties, whether residential or commercial, are deemed a “nuisance per se”—in other words, a nuisance in any context. This blog post provides an overview of the new receivership authority. Read more »

  • Public Employers Beware New Rule: Violate a Policy, Your Employee May Sue You

    Authored by: on Tuesday, June 12th, 2018

    Every once in a while, the North Carolina appellate courts put forward a totally new interpretation of some aspect of the law of employment, an interpretation that has the potential to change the way employers act.

    It happened in 1985

    The Court of Appeals did that, for instance, in 1985 in Sides v. Duke Hospital, 74 N.C. App. 331, when it created something that had not existed before in North Carolina law—the tort of wrongful discharge.

    A nurse at Duke Hospital claimed that she was dismissed in retaliation for testimony she had given in a medical malpractice lawsuit against Duke.  She claimed she was fired because her truthful testimony under oath had cost Duke money.  The superior court judge threw her case out, saying that she was alleging a tort—wrongful discharge—that simply did not exist in North Carolina.  Even if what she claimed was true, Duke could dismiss her for that reason if it wanted to.

    The court of appeals, when the case reached it in 1985, for the first time recognized the wrongful discharge tort as an exception to employment at will.  To allow employers to punish their employees for testifying truthfully, the court said, would be “an affront to the integrity of our judicial system, an impediment to the constitutional mandate of the courts to administer justice fairly, and a violation of the right that all litigants in this State have to have their cases tried upon honest evidence fully given.”

    So, the court said, “while there might be a right to terminate a contract [of employment] at will for no reason, or for an arbitrary or irrational reason, there can be no right to terminate such a contract for an unlawful reason or purpose that contravenes public policy.”

    The “public policy” implicated in this case was the policy that every citizen should testify fully and truthfully at court.  The public policy exemption to the doctrine of employment at will was given birth and the tort of wrongful discharge is alive and active today.

    It may have just happened again

    It is possible that the North Carolina Supreme Court has done it again, in 2018.  It appears to have ruled that a public employee has a claim that the North Carolina Constitution is violated if (1) a public employer has a clear employment rule or policy, (2) the employer violates that rule or policy, and (3) the employee suffers an adverse consequence. Read more »

  • How to Approve Minutes and General Accounts of Closed Sessions

    Authored by: on Tuesday, June 5th, 2018

    The North Carolina open meetings law requires public bodies to prepare minutes of all official meetings, and to prepare minutes and general accounts of closed sessions. G.S. 143-318.10(e).  Minutes and general accounts of closed sessions may be withheld from public inspection “so long as public inspection would frustrate the purpose of a closed session.” (For more about public access to closed session minutes, see my blog posts here and here.)  When the purpose of the closed session is not frustrated by public inspection, the closed session minutes and general accounts can be circulated to the members of the public body and approved at any open meeting. But when the purpose of the closed session would be frustrated and the minutes and general accounts are withheld from public inspection, it is often assumed that the minutes and general accounts can only be approved in a closed session. Not so. As described in this blog post, there are least three options for approving minutes and general accounts. Read more »

  • CRFs for SDFs (aka Capital Reserve Funds for System Development Fees)

    Authored by: on Thursday, May 24th, 2018

    UPDATED August 2018: The legislature made a few changes to the System Development Fee law during the 2018 legislative session (S.L. 2018-34). For information on those changes, click here.

    Local governments and public authorities (collectively, local units) that own or operate water and sewer systems must implement the new system development fee schedule by July 1, 2018, in order to begin charging (or continue charging) certain upfront fees for new development. Units are now looking to put policies in place to administer those fees according to state law directives. The fee revenues are restricted to specific purposes, and they must be “accounted for by means of a capital reserve fund….” This blog briefly describes the new system development fee law and details the purposes for which system development fee proceeds may be expended. It then explains the purpose of, and process for creating, a capital reserve fund. Finally, it provides a sample capital reserve fund for system development fee proceeds. Read more »