Recent Blog Posts

  • County Tax Collection Obligations for Motor Vehicles Under the “Tag & Tax Together” Program

    Authored by: on Monday, August 19th, 2013

    On September 1, the state’s Tag & Tax Together program formally launches statewide.  All N.C. vehicle owners will be required to pay property taxes owed on their vehicles at the same time they register those vehicles each year with the Division of Motor Vehicles. The joint payment system actually went live in July, meaning vehicle owners with September renewals can already pay their taxes and registration fees simultaneously via the DMV website.

    In return for payment of a small transaction fee to the DMV, counties won’t need to worry about mailing tax bills for the state’s 8 million or so registered vehicles and (hopefully) will benefit from increased collection rates for taxes on those vehicles.

    Counties can’t forget entirely about collecting these taxes, however.  A number of potentially knotty problems remain.  One of them is bankruptcy filings by vehicle owners, which I discussed here.  Another is “gap billing,” a term I use to describe the county’s obligation to collect property taxes owed on a vehicle that moves between registered and unregistered status.

    The DMV will responsible for collecting taxes owed on registered vehicles.  It remains the county’s job to collect taxes on unregistered vehicles.  When a registration expires on a vehicle and the owner waits months or years to renew that registration, it might be difficult to determine which entity collects which taxes for which time period.  This blog post should help. Read more »

  • Do You Have to Swear to Tell the Truth to the Board of Adjustment?

    Authored by: on Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

    Hector Peabody is fuming.  Several months ago one of his neighbors called town hall and complained that he was running an illegal kennel in his backyard.  Sure, he raised plot hounds, kept them in a pen out back and the dogs barked from time to time.  Even though he occasionally sold some of the hounds, Hector considered this a hobby.  But his neighbor, Mr. Sherman, had called town hall and complained.  After inspecting his pens and asking him about his dogs, the town cited Mr. Peabody for a zoning violation.  So here he was sitting through a lengthy zoning board of adjustment hearing on his appeal.  Now his disgruntled neighbor was going on and on about how many dogs were there, how they howled all night long, and such.

    Mr. Peabody finally had enough.  He stands up and addresses the board.  “Mr. Chairman, I’m sorry to interrupt, but this is just malarkey.  Sherman and I had a falling out years ago and he brought this ridiculous complaint just to harass me.  I can put up with that. But now he’s lying about my dogs and that’s too much.  What he just said is plain wrong.  I want you to put this kid under oath or make him sit down and be quiet.”

    Apart from the lack of good order and decorum, does Mr. Peabody have a point?  Does the neighbor need to sworn in to tell the board what he has seen going on in his neighbor’s back yard? Read more »

  • Firing At-Will Employees: Legal Limitations

    Authored by: on Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

    If you go to work for someone else, the odds are great that you are an employee at will.  That’s the basic rule in North Carolina, as it is almost everywhere in the United States.  In North Carolina, it applies whether you go to work for an individual or a private business or a unit of government.

    So what?  What does it mean to be an employee at will?  It means that you can be fired at any time, for any reason or no reason, with notice or without notice.  It means, as a legal matter, that your job hangs by the barest thread, subject to being snipped at any moment, with no recourse.  It means, as a practical matter, that the employer holds all the cards in the employment arrangement.

    But there is one more element to the law of employment at will:  yes, it’s true that an at-will employee may be fired for any reason or no reason.  But even an employee at will may not be fired for an unlawful reason.  The law puts in place some protections against dismissal even for at-will employees.

    This blog post lists the unlawful reasons.  If an employer, private or governmental, fires an employee for any reason not listed here, the law of employment at will prevails, and the employee is out of luck.  But if one of these reasons is behind the dismissal, the employer has acted unlawfully and the employee may have legal protection. Read more »

  • Grandfather Mountain: Educational or Recreational?

    Authored by: on Monday, August 5th, 2013

    [UPDATE: In August 2014 the N.C. Court of Appeals reversed the PTC decision and found in favor of the county. For many of the reasons I discuss below, the Court of Appeals held that the Grandfather Mountain property does not qualify for a property tax exemption.  The Court of Appeals decision is available here.]

    Grandfather Mountain has long been one of the most popular destinations in the North Carolina high country.  Thanks to a recent Property Tax Commission decision, the iconic mountain may become just as famous among local tax officials as it already is among tourists.

    The key question in the Grandfather Mountain case is easy to state but tough to answer: when it comes to property tax exemptions, where is the line between education and recreation?  Educational property may be exempt. Recreational property is not.  Is a nature hike more educational or recreational? At stake are millions of dollars in local property tax revenue across North Carolina. Read more »

  • New Rural Economic Development Division and Other 2013 North Carolina Legislation

    Authored by: on Friday, August 2nd, 2013

    The North Carolina General Assembly wrapped up the 2013 session after approving several pieces of legislation related to community economic development (CED). This post summarizes some of the major legislation of interest to public officials, such as progress toward a statewide public-private partnership for economic development, the establishment of a Rural Economic Development Division at the NC Department of Commerce, unprecedented Community Development Block Grant allocations, preservation of certain economic development incentive programs, and more.

    Public-Private Partnership for Economic Development

    In the Appropriations Act of 2013, the Secretary of the Department of Commerce was granted flexibility to reorganize the department and to establish a public-private partnership for economic development, presumably with a new private nonprofit entity. No other details for the new nonprofit were included in the authorizing provision, as more specific requirements for the nonprofit were to be provided in a separate bill, SB 127, which was not taken up prior to adjournment. Although not enacted into law, SB 127 is worth a look because Read more »

  • Nuisance Abatement and Local Governments: What a Mess – Part II

    Authored by: on Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

    Several years ago I prepared a blog entitled “Nuisance Abatement and Local Governments: What a Mess.” At the end of that blog I promised a sequel to take up several other legal issues related to nuisance abatement and building condemnation. Here is that sequel. One issue concerns the nature of the process that must be used by a local government to abate a nuisance or condemn a building. In administrative proceedings particularly, what due process is due? The second issue involves the seizure or destruction of property that can occur when a local government takes direct action to abate a nuisance or demolish a dilapidated building after the owner fails to remedy the conditions that give rise to the problem. Can there be a violation of an individual’s legal rights when a local government or its contractor goes onto private property to destroy the offending property condition? These are the subjects of “Nuisance Abatement and Local Governments: What a Mess – Part II.” Read more »

  • Planning Board Basics

    Authored by: on Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

    The local planning board may take many forms and perform many roles.  The core responsibilities are clearly set forth by statute.  The General Statutes also grant fairly wide ranging authority for additional responsibilities, giving local governments the ability to use the planning board in a variety of ways.  This blog outlines the basic requirements for planning boards and explores those options for additional activities.    Read more »