Recent Blog Posts

  • Local Government Support for Privately Constructed Affordable Housing

    Authored by: on Tuesday, June 21st, 2016

    County officials from Tarheel County as well as City officials from the county seat were approached by two residential developers who are seeking to construct housing that is affordable to low and moderate income (LMI) persons. One developer, DoGooder Inc., is a private, for-profit developer who intends to construct multi-family housing in which half of the twenty apartment units will be rented at a rate that is affordable to LMI persons. DoGooder is financing the project through conventional private financing but has asked the City and County for a cash subsidy to “make the project feasible.” The other developer, Good Habits for Humans, is a nonprofit corporation whose staff and volunteers plan to construct one single family home and sell it to a family headed by a LMI person. Good Habits has asked the City and County to provide a cash grant to help them pay for staff supervision and construction materials for the project.

    This post describes the legal authority for the City and County to provide the requested subsidies and explains some important differences between City and County authority in this area. Read more »

  • 2016 Changes to Municipal Service District (MSD) Authority

    Authored by: on Friday, June 17th, 2016

    In 2015, the legislature made a few significant changes to municipal service district (MSD) authority. (Those changes are summarized here.) The legislature made additional amendments to the MSD statutes this year. See S.L. 2016-8.

    To summarize, the amendments first require that all new MSDs be created, modified, and/or abolished by ordinance. They mandate a procedure for adopting an MSD-related ordinance that is similar to that for awarding a franchise. Second, the amendments establish a formal process for property owners to request a new MSD, or to request that a property tract or parcel be excluded from a proposed MSD or removed from an existing MSD. A property owner may not compel a city’s governing board to take any of these actions. The new provisions simply allow a property owner, or group of property owners, to seek governing board consideration. Finally, the amendments require a private entity that has contracted to do work in an MSD to report on all subcontracts related to that work.

    The remainder of this post briefly explains the purpose of an MSD and then fleshes out the contours of these changes. Read more »

  • Tricky Refund and Release Questions

    Authored by: on Friday, June 17th, 2016

    My in-box is usually filled with tough property tax questions from across the state, which I love because they educate me about the issues I need to cover in my blogs and classes.  Today I offer my thoughts on two recent brain-busters concerning refunds and releases (aka waivers).

    Before we get to the questions, here’s a quick refresher on when and how property taxes can be refunded or waived.  Read more »

  • Providing Utility Services Outside Territorial Boundaries: Recent Developments

    Authored by: on Friday, June 10th, 2016

    Municipalities and counties are authorized, but not required, to provide utility services to properties that lie beyond their territorial borders. See G.S. 160A-312; G.S. 153A-275; see also City of Randleman v. Hinshaw, 2 N.C. App. 381 (1968) (“A [local government] which operates its own water and sewer system is under no duty to furnish water or sewer service to person outside its limits. It has the discretionary power, however, to engage in this undertaking.”) (The same is true of water and sewer authorities, sanitary districts (on a limited basis), metropolitan water districts, metropolitan sewerage districts, metropolitan water and sewerage districts, and county water and sewer districts.)

    Local governments are likewise authorized to adopt different user fee rate schedules for services provided extraterritorially (to nonresident customers). See, e.g., G.S. 160A-314; G.S. 153A-277. Many local governments charge rates to nonresident customers that are significantly higher than those imposed on resident customers. Local governments also often impose different terms of service on nonresident customers.

    A recent court of appeals opinion, United States Cold Storage, Inc. v. Town of Warsaw, No. COA 15-341, __N.C.App. ___ (Apr. 2016), gives some new guidance on the contours of a local unit’s authority to set the terms of service for nonresident public enterprise utility customers. The court’s opinion has two significant holdings. The first is that a municipality may condition its provision of utility services to a property located outside its boundaries on the property owner’s agreement to voluntary annex the property into the municipality’s corporate limits. The second is that a municipality (and likely other government utilities) may not unfairly discriminate among similarly situated nonresident customers.  Read more »

  • Residential Exclusions for Co-Owners

    Authored by: on Wednesday, June 1st, 2016

    Today, June 1, is the deadline for taxpayers to submit applications for the three primary residential property tax exclusions: elderly & disabled, disabled veteran’s, and circuit breaker.  (That deadline is not exactly written in stone, however.)

    Once the tax office determines that a property qualifies for an exclusion (or the Board of Equalization and Review or the Property Tax Commission makes that decision for them), calculating the exclusion amount is usually simple. The elderly & disabled exclusion reduces the property’s tax appraisal by the greater of $25,000 or 50%.  The disabled veteran’s exclusion eliminates $45,000 in appraised value.  The circuit breaker exclusion requires only a bit more math, with property taxes capped at either 4% or 5% of the taxpayer’s income.

    But when co-owners are involved, these calculations can get complicated. Different owners can participate in different exclusions, requiring tax offices to mix and match exclusion amounts.  Here’s a short primer on this process. Read more »

  • Zapping Zika in North Carolina

    Authored by: on Tuesday, May 31st, 2016

    UPDATE: The 2016 Appropriations Act included provisions addressing the Zika virus. For more information, see my post summarizing 2016 public health legislation

    Summer is nearly upon us, and with summer comes mosquitoes. Where there are mosquitoes, there is mosquito-borne illness — a perennial truth that feels more salient than ever this year as the world is facing a public health emergency caused by Zika, the mosquito-borne virus presently responsible for significant outbreaks in South America and the Caribbean. Zika usually causes only mild illness in an infected person, but it is has been associated with significant birth defects. There have been clusters of babies born with microcephaly or other neurological disorders in areas where the disease is widespread. This has prompted the World Health Organization to declare Zika a public health emergency of international concern.

    Zika has already arrived in the continental United States in the form of infected travelers, but it is not currently spreading through mosquito bites on the mainland. However, the U.S. has mosquitoes that are capable of becoming infected with Zika by biting an infected person, and some of them are present in North Carolina. If a mosquito becomes infected with Zika and then bites more people, the disease could spread. Accordingly, states that have the mosquito types of concern are developing Zika action plans — which gives us the satisfying acronym ZAP (a term I’d love to take credit for but must attribute to the CDC, which held a ZAP summit for state and local public health officials in April).

    This post takes a look at North Carolina public health laws and programs that are relevant to responding to the Zika virus in this state.  Read more »

  • More In Rem Resources

    Authored by: on Friday, May 27th, 2016

    In rem foreclosure is becoming an increasingly popular remedy for enforcing local government liens on real property.  The process is quicker and cheaper than traditional mortgage-style foreclosures and can be used for a variety of liens including property tax liens, nuisance abatement liens, minimum housing code enforcement demolition liens, and ambulance service liens.

    The increased popularity of in rem foreclosure has led to increased demand for in rem guidance and resources.  I’m hopeful my newest publication, In Rem Foreclosure Forms and Procedures, will help satisfy that demand. Read more »