Recent Blog Posts

  • Can a Property Owner Be Cited for a Zoning Violation by a Tenant?

    Authored by: on Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

    Betty Draper owns a single-family residence.  She rents the property to four tenants.  The zoning ordinance does not allow parking in the front yard and limits the number of cars that can be parked on the property to four vehicles.  The residents regularly park in the front yard and often have eight cars parked on the lot.  The neighbors complain.  A city investigation establishes a clear-cut zoning violation.  The staff has prepared a notice of violation, which provides that civil penalties will be assessed if the violation is not immediately remedied.

    Can the city send this citation and notice of violation directly to Betty or is it limited to citing the tenants who have too many cars parked at the house? Read more »

  • Court of Appeals Attempts to Clarify “Immaterial Irregularity” Provision

    Authored by: on Friday, March 28th, 2014

    I often describe GS 105-394 as a “get-out-of-jail-free” card for local tax officials because the provision excuses mistakes in the administration of property taxes. In other words, taxes are not waived just because the tax office messed up.  I wrote about this statute extensively here.

    While the provision can be extremely useful, its scope is murky at best. A recent opinion from the N.C. Court of Appeals attempts to provide some clarity but does so in a manner that raises more questions than it answers. Read more »

  • You’ve Consolidated. Do You Know Who Your Local Health Director Is?

    Authored by: on Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

    In the summer of 2012, the General Assembly enacted a law that authorized boards of county commissioners in North Carolina to consolidate county human services departments and boards. In the months since, twenty counties have taken actions under G.S. 153A-77. The exact actions have varied from place to place, but the most common action has been to create a consolidated human services agency (CHSA) combining the former county departments of health and social services, and sometimes other human services departments or functions as well. There are presently 17 CHSAs in North Carolina that include both public health and social services, as this map shows.

    North Carolina law requires counties to assure that public health services are available to their residents, a duty that is satisfied by the creation of a CHSA that includes public health. State law also creates the position of local health director, requires the person in that position to meet minimum education and experience requirements, and assigns quite a few powers and duties to that person. Traditional county health departments and multi-county district health departments are headed by a local health director who meets the statutory qualifications for the position and carries out the statutory powers and duties. However, a CHSA is led by a consolidated human services director–a position that is also created by statute but has its own powers and duties and is not subject to the education and experience requirements for a local health director.

    When a county creates a CHSA that includes public health, what becomes of the local health director? That is actually a multi-part question that is not entirely answered by law. What happens to the position of local health director is one thing, but what happens to the powers and duties of a local health director is another.  Read more »

  • Solar Farms and Solar Rooftops

    Authored by: on Monday, March 24th, 2014

    Across North Carolina solar energy systems are filling pastures and cladding rooftops.  According to solar industry reports, North Carolina ranked second in the country, behind only California, for solar photovoltaic capacity added in 2013.  The rapid rise of the solar industry in North Carolina has many communities considering how to handle this new land use.

    Two new resources from the UNC School of Government—a free online report and a free upcoming webinar—seek to assist communities as they plan for and zone for solar development.

    Read more »

  • Preauditing Employee Salaries and Wages

    Authored by: on Friday, March 21st, 2014

    Having turned the corner on the Great Recession, the Town of FingersCrossing recently hired a few new employees. The finance office begins to process the first payroll since the new employees began working for the town. It is also the first payroll for the town’s newly-promoted finance officer, Connie Scientious. Connie has diligently reviewed the statutes that govern her work. She also regularly reads Coates’ Canons blog posts () and other relevant reference materials. As she reviews the payroll for approval, she asks her staff members to check to make sure that the new employee contracts were properly preaudited. Her staff members inform her that there are no employee contracts because these are “at-will” employees. The manager verbally hired each new employee and then sent a personnel action form (PAF) to the finance department directing staff members to add each new employee (and his/her salary or wage) to the payroll system.

    Connie balks at this. She distinctly remembers reading that she cannot approve any disbursement of public funds unless the contract or agreement authorizing the obligation was properly preaudited. Staff members tell her that the town has never provided a new employee with a written contract and has never preaudited a new employee’s salary. They believe that she must be misinterpreting the statute. Is she? Read more »

  • Internships under the Fair Labor Standards Act

    Authored by: on Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

    Look at two interns. Tim is a twenty-year old college student majoring in accounting. He expresses interest in an internship with the city’s finance department over the summer. Chris, a high school athlete, applies for a position as an intern working in the city’s summer camp program. The city offers them the internships. Tim is offered a stipend of $2,500 for ten weeks of full-time work. Chris is told he will not be paid at all.

    Are these arrangements lawful? It may come as a surprise, but in paying Tim a stipend of $2,500, the city is violating the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). In not paying Chris anything, on the other hand, the city is in compliance with the FLSA. How can this be so? Read more »

  • How a North Carolina Local Government Can Operate a Land Bank for Redevelopment

    Authored by: on Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

    If America’s cities and towns are to realize their greatest potential as attractive and welcoming places—and as drivers of the new American economy—they must be able to repurpose their vacant, abandoned and foreclosed properties. Those properties—whether the product of the current foreclosure crisis or the remnants of the old economy—diminish the sense of community among neighbors, erase the value of lifelong investment in a home, and make it nearly impossible for cities and towns to attract and keep the creative, innovative, entrepreneurial citizens who will build the next economy.

    Dan Kildee, founder of Genesee County Land Bank, in the foreword to Land Banks and Land Banking

    Dan Kildee’s sentiment is shared by local governments across North Carolina, but how can they “repurpose” their vacant and abandoned properties and revitalize distressed communities? The answer in Genesee County, Michigan, was a redevelopment tool called a land bank, which is a public authority created to acquire and redevelop vacant and abandoned properties. In the span of a decade, the Genesee County Land Bank acquired more than 10,000 parcels to hold or redevelop, and during the “great recession,” catalyzed more than $60 million in new private investment. Land banks continue to spring up across the nation and are playing an increasingly important role in revitalization efforts in places such as Cuyahoga County, Ohio, and Fulton County, Georgia. A complete explanation of land bank policies and approaches across the nation can be found in a downloadable text, Land Banks and Land Banking.

    In Michigan, forming a land bank is rather straightforward, because the Michigan state legislature enacted specific enabling authority for the establishment and operation of land banks. No such land bank legislation exists in North Carolina. Nonetheless, local governments in North Carolina can perform the basic functions of a land bank by cobbling together existing statutory authority. In this way, the local government itself serves as the land bank and performs the major activities of a land bank:

  • Acquire and hold troubled properties
  • Stabilize properties and eliminate encumbrances
  • Convey properties to a redeveloper
  • Each activity will be addressed in turn. Read more »