Recent Blog Posts

  • Conveyance of property in a public-private partnership for a “downtown development project”

    Authored by: on Thursday, June 22nd, 2017

    Downtowns across America are experiencing a renaissance. Population growth in downtowns has outpaced growth in the broader regions in which those downtowns are located. North Carolina downtowns are likewise experiencing record growth. To capitalize on this renewed interest in downtowns, private developers and local governments are increasingly seeking to partner on relatively larger, coordinated development projects that involve construction of both public and private facilities.

    Often these public-private partnerships are necessary because the local government owns property downtown and needs a private partner to develop it. When a municipality (not a county) seeks to partner with a private developer for development of a downtown parcel involving construction of both public and private facilities, there is a statute designed just for that purpose: G.S. 160A-458.3 Downtown development projects. The statute makes some potentially confusing references to a variety of other statutes when authorizing disposition of real property and therefore requires some explanation. This post provides historical context for the statute and describes the property disposition procedures. Read more »

  • A Penny (or a Wheelbarrow Full) for Your Thoughts?

    Authored by: on Wednesday, June 21st, 2017

    The Machinery Act requires taxpayers to pay their bills in our “national currency,” meaning in money.  This provision allows tax offices to reject creative non-monetary payments offered by disgruntled taxpayers such the bushels of wheat sent via overnight mail to Yadkin County a few years back.

    But what about pennies? Thousands and thousands of pennies?

    In 2012, a Winston-Salem resident, sporting a t-shirt that read “taxation is theft,” hauled a box containing 11,722 pennies into the Forsyth County tax office to pay his vehicle tax bill.  In 2015, a UNC-Charlotte student paid his parking ticket fines with over 10,000 pennies to protest the fact that most of the revenue generated by university parking citations goes to public school districts.  The town of Columbia, N.C. reports that one taxpayer who owns a coin-operated laundromat routinely drags in huge laundry bags full of quarters to pay his taxes and water bills.

    Google “paying with pennies” and you’ll discover that paying fines, taxes, and other government bills with thousands of coins as a protest is very common.   Do local governments have to accept these protest payments? Read more »

  • A Statutory Modification for Plan Consistency Statements

    Authored by: on Tuesday, June 20th, 2017

    Cities and counties routinely consider proposals to amend their zoning ordinances. Amendments vary from the rezoning of a single parcel of land to major rewrites of the whole ordinance. The decision of whether or not to make a particular amendment is a legislative policy choice left to the good judgment and discretion of the elected governing board.

    A variety of factors are considered by the governing board in making these decisions. For the past decade in North Carolina, one of the factors that must be considered is how the proposal relates to previously adopted plans. Under the General Statutes a zoning amendment is not required to be consistent with the plan, but both the planning board and governing board are required to consider the plan and to document that consideration with a written statement approved by the board.  For the most part this has become a routine and noncontroversial step in the zoning amendment process.  But there has been enough confusion about this requirement that the General Assembly has amended the plan consistency statement requirement, with the changes to take effect for applications for zoning amendments made on or after October 1, 2017. Read more »

  • Excusing Board Members from Voting on the Budget

    Authored by: on Monday, June 19th, 2017

    North Carolina city and county governing board members have a duty to vote. The general voting statutes, G.S. 153A-44 (counties) and G.S. 160A-75 (cities), allow members to be excused from voting on matters involving their “own financial interest.” What if the annual budget contains provisions that affect a board member’s financial interest? Is the member prohibited from voting on the whole budget, or perhaps on only parts of the budget? And how would a board member come to have a financial interest in the budget? Isn’t it illegal for board members to contract with their units of government? This blog post describes some common scenarios involving the issue of budget approval and board member financial interests, and suggests a strategy for addressing it. Read more »

  • Subdivision Legislation: An Old Exemption and a New Expedited Review

    Authored by: on Tuesday, June 13th, 2017

    During the 2017 legislative session lawmakers adopted Session Law 2017-10 (S131), a law addressing an array of regulatory topics, including local zoning and subdivision regulations.  With regard to subdivision regulations, Section 2.5 of S.L. 2017-10 adds one new category to the list of exempt subdivisions: divisions to settle an estate.  The new law also creates expedited review for qualifying subdivisions greater than five acres.  The former is straightforward and codifies prior caselaw into the statutes.  The latter requires some interpretation and explanation.

    These changes to subdivision statutes are effective July 1, 2017.  Land subdivisions after that date are subject to these new rules, and cities and counties should amend their ordinances to comply.

    This blog explores these changes enacted in S.L. 2017-10 concerning subdivisions. Read more »

  • Fighting Blight with Property Tax Bills

    Authored by: on Tuesday, May 30th, 2017

    How can a city more effectively fight blight—vacant, abandoned, and dilapidated housing? The city of High Point tried to find some answers last year with help from the Center for Community Progress and the UNC School of Government.

    My economic development expert colleague Tyler Mulligan and I were honored to play a part in this extensive effort that included a variety of city departments, Guilford County officials, and neighborhood organizations. Tyler focused on how best to navigate housing code enforcement law. My focus was on how best to use property tax collection remedies to recoup housing code enforcement costs.  You can read the full report produced by the Center for Community Progress here; today’s blog summarizes the relevant property tax collection issues.

    My advice to High Point and other cities combating blight was simple: use your property tax bills! Read more »

  • Big Changes for Immaterial Irregularity Billing?

    Authored by: on Thursday, May 18th, 2017

    G.S. 105-394, the immaterial irregularities provision, functions much like a giant “reset” button for local tax offices.  It allows a tax collector to issue retroactive bills (plus interest) for all property taxes that were omitted due to a mistake by the tax office.

    Assume Blue Devil City annexed Parcel A twenty years ago but for some reason never levied taxes on Parcel A.  Perhaps the county assessor failed to code the property as city property or perhaps mistakes were made by the city when it finalized the annexation.  Regardless, under G.S. 105-394 the city can send to the owner of Parcel A twenty years of retroactive tax bills with interest from the date each of those year’s bills would have become delinquent had they been billed correctly.

    This result would change if Senate Bill 616 becomes law.   Read more »