Recent Blog Posts

  • Text Messages as Public Records

    Authored by: on Monday, April 22nd, 2013

    A city manager sends and receives the following text messages from a city resident on the manager’s personal smartphone:

    Citizen: u and wife want to meet us for dinner at 6 2moro? Manager: same place as last Fri? scallops were delish Citizen: yeah. btw–Y potholes on Jones St. not fixed yet? ruining my car shocks. mayoer promised theyd be fixed 6 mnths ago. As usual LOPSOD Manager:  BMY publ. werks crew painfully slow. will direct to fix asap Citizen: Thx. it’s doog to know peeps in high paces      :-} Manager: had 2 pull rank. crew will get there early next week at latest.. ITMT take Smith st. Citizen: YTM. where/when is next council mtg? Manager:  in 3 weeks. moved 2 library mtg. room. 7pm. CU 2moro

    Are these text messages public records? Do they need to be retained? Are they subject to public access? Read more »

  • What Do You Mean I Can’t Start Up My Business Again?

    Authored by: on Friday, April 19th, 2013

    Rick Grimes is a sheriff’s deputy residing in a crossroads community out in the county.  For a number of years he has supplemented his income with a small business repairing RVs.  He usually has three or four old RVs parked in his back yard where he fixes them on nights and weekends.  A few years ago the county extended zoning to Rick’s community.  His home was placed in a single-family residential zoning district that does not allow commercial uses such as his RV repair operation.  But the county zoning staff told him when zoning was adopted that he could continue his backyard business since he had all required permits and was in operation prior to adoption of the ordinance.

    About eight months ago Rick was seriously injured in the line of duty.  He spent two months in the hospital.  After an additional few months of rehab he was able to return to work.  Given his lack of stamina, however, he put his moonlighting RV repair work aside. 

    Rick is now feeling much better and recently decided to restart his RV repair business.  He mentioned this in passing to the county planner in the courthouse parking lot yesterday as they were leaving work.  She told Rick there might be space to open his business in an abandoned state prison the county had recently acquired and was converting to a small business incubator and start-up industrial park. 

    Rick, his meager savings already depleted by his hospitalization and recovery expenses, thanked her for the tip, but quickly said he preferred to pick up the work in his backyard.  She reminded him that while his neighbors had been very supportive during his recovery, there had been complaints before he got hurt about all the “junk” piled up in his yard.  Some of the neighbors might well not welcome the reappearance of a half-dozen broken-down RVs in his backyard.  She told Rick that re-starting the work at his home might not be allowed under the county zoning. 

    Could it possibly be true that Rick cannot resume his backyard business? Read more »

  • Who Controls the Agenda?

    Authored by: on Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

    The word “agenda” derives from Latin, meaning “things to be done”. For local government boards, it is a tool for organizing and conducting meetings. This blog addresses frequently asked questions about agendas, including how they are developed, how they may be modified, and who, ultimately, has the legal authority to control them.

    Read more »

  • The Final Four of Tax Questions

    Authored by: on Thursday, April 11th, 2013

    With this week’s men’s and women’s championship games (neither of which featured my beloved Blue Devils, alas), the college basketball season came to a close.  But don’t despair—you won’t need to wait a full year for another Final Four. 

    After much number crunching and bracketology, I’ve identified the four most popular tax questions I get from local governments across the state.  Here they are, listed along with the “region” they won to make it to my version of the Final Four

    Champion of the “[Ir]responsible Taxpayer” Region:

    Can a shareholder be held responsible for taxes owed on a corporation’s property?

    Champion of the “But I Never Owned That Property!” Region:

    When should the tax lien on subdivided lots be released?

    Champion of the “Uh Oh, We Really Messed Up” Region:

    How may a local government recapture property taxes that were never billed?

    Champion of the “I Hate Privilege License Taxes” Region:

    Are non-profit businesses exempt from privilege license taxes?

    The short answers are: probably not, maybe, likely through immaterial irregularity, and maybe.  What’s that you say, a bit more detail would be helpful?

    Read on for my more complete answers to each regional champion question. And feel free to use the comment section to vote for your favorite or offer up another common tax question that you think should be in the running for the overall championship. Read more »

  • What is a Synthetic Project Development Financing (aka Synthetic TIF)?

    Authored by: on Friday, April 5th, 2013

    Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines “synthetic,” among other things, as “devised, arranged, or fabricated for special situations to imitate or replace usual realities.” As the definition suggests, a “synthetic project development financing” (more commonly referred to as a “synthetic tax increment financing” or “synthetic TIF”) is a local government borrowing scheme that is “fabricated” to “imitate” a real TIF. If that does not totally clear things up for you read on…. Read more »

  • Denying the Manager a New Contract in Closed Session

    Authored by: on Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

    A North Carolina city manager’s contract term is ending.  (Or maybe it’s the county manager.  The issues are the same.)  After June 30 she will have no further contract protection.  If she remains employed by the city after that date, it will be in an unadulterated at-will status

    Over coffee, the manager tells the board chair that she would like a new contract for a new two-year period.  At the next scheduled meeting, on the motion of the chair, the board goes into closed session to discuss the performance of the manager (and, really, to discuss whether to enter into a new contract with the manager).  In the closed session, the board decides not to offer the manager a new contract.  That vote result is put into the minutes of the closed session and the closed-session minutes are sealed.

    Two questions immediately arise.  Could the board lawfully make that decision in closed session?  If the newspaper asks a board member about the manager’s contract, may the board member comment on the request and the closed-session contract denial? Read more »

  • NC Appellate Court Defines “Ownership” For Property Tax Exemptions

    Authored by: on Thursday, March 28th, 2013

    Property tax exemptions all begin with the question of ownership.  Only certain types of property owners may qualify for a property tax exemption—governments, educational institutions, and religious congregations, to name a few.  If the property is not owned by a qualifying owner, the property cannot qualify for an exemption even if it is used for an exempt purpose.

    Consider a building used for worship services by a religious congregation.  That building would be exempt under G.S. 105-278.3 only if it were also owned by that religious congregation.  If the religious congregation rented that building from another owner, it would not be exempt. 

    Unfortunately the exemption statutes don’t define exactly what constitutes ownership. Usually the issue is clear, as in the above example. But what about situations in which there is a complicated corporate ownership structure involving both qualifying and non-qualifying owners?  The absence of clear statutory guidance means we need to turn to the courts to resolve those situations.

    The N.C. Court of Appeals recently tackled one of those complicated exemption situations in the Appeal of Blue Ridge Housing case. The March 23 opinion offers for the first time a court-approved test for determining what type of ownership is needed to qualify for an exemption. Read more »