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 In the News, August 3, 2010 

BUDGETS

More municipalities are chopping jobs than hiking taxes. Immediate feedback from a North Carolina League of Municipalities survey shows cities across the state are filling budget gaps by cutting expenses rather than raising taxes. The N.C. League of Municipalities sends out the annual survey to get a sense of the fiscal health of cities around the state. More than a quarter of the surveys have come back, and the League’s Research Director Karl Knapp says sales tax revenue dropped across North Carolina by about 4 percent in the last fiscal year.

 

GENERAL

Suped-up set-off debt collection. The Set-off Debt Collection Act is one of the General Statute’s hidden gems for local governments.   For decades the process commonly called “debt set-off” has allowed local governments, water and sewer authorities, and similar public agencies to attach state income tax returns to satisfy debts of $50 or more owed by individuals. Lottery winnings were made subject to the process in 2005.  Debt set-off can used to collect taxes or assessments or fees or fines or any obligation owed to a local government and is in addition to all other collection remedies available to a local government for a particular debt.  As part of the shockingly punctual 2010 budget bill, the General Assembly made this hidden gem even more valuable by increasing the types of debtors and funds subject to debt set-off.

Bell, Calif., scandal has cities scrambling to ease anger over salaries. City administrators from around the state scrambled Thursday to get ahead of the unfolding salary scandal in the Los Angeles suburb of Bell. The League of California Cities took the unusual step of lambasting one of its own and said it would explore state legislation requiring that the salaries of the highest-paid employees in state and local government be made easily available to the public.

 

ANNEXATION

Despite appeal, Wilmington moves forward with annexation plans. Despite a court case that is delaying the proposed annexation of the Monkey Junction portion of New Hanover County into the city limits of Wilmington, city council plans to move forward with laying the ground work for the expansion. Tuesday night, council members will vote on an ordinance to ask the NC Department of Transportation to transfer maintenance responsibility for a portion of River Road between Shipyard Boulevard and Independence Boulevard to the city.  By taking responsibility over maintenance, the city will be able speed up the process of installing sanitary service that will serve those in the Monkey Junction area and the future River Lights development project.

Wilmington says Monkey Junction delay will not ruin its budget. Wilmington officials say a possible delay of 12-18 months on the Monkey Junction annexation will not cause them to rework the budget. The annexation was supposed to go into effect on August 31st, but that was pushed back to as far as possibly 2012.  On Thursday, lawyers for a group of Monkey Junction residents filed an appeal against the forced annexation.  The legal maneuver means instead of next month, the procedure could be tied up in courts for some time to come. The fight over Monkey Junction is being watched closely by residents of several other neighboring communities.  Earlier this summer the Wilmington city council talked about other areas it would like to annex in the future.  The so called "hit list" includes Ogden to the Northeast and Kings Grant to the North.

Asheville moves to annex 686 homes. City Council made the first move this week to involuntarily annex 686 homes near the city's southern border. The council Tuesday voted 6-1 to begin annexation proceedings for 16 homes along Coopers HawkDrive in Biltmore Park and 5-2 to begin the process for 670 homes in the Royal Pines neighborhood east of Lake Julian. If completed, the combined 431-acre annexation would require the homeowners to pay city taxes. In return they would receive services, including police and fire protection, garbage collection and street and sidewalk maintenance.

 

TAXES

Letter: You click, you buy, you owe taxes. North Carolina tax collectors have stirred up a controversy in their efforts to collect sales or use taxes on items sold online. When revenue officials asked Amazon.com for certain sales information in order to collect the use tax owed on sales to Tar Heel residents, Amazon refused, citing privacy and First Amendment reasons. The giant retailer filed a federal lawsuit, claiming that the request violated citizens' First Amendment rights. The N.C. Department of Revenue denied requesting private information and said it needs only information such as a buyer's name, address and purchase price, not book or DVD titles. The resulting news stories focused on the privacy issue, whether it is an invasion of privacy to tell the state anything about what books N.C. residents have been buying or what DVDs or music selections have been clicked into those online shopping carts.

 

ENVIRONMENTAL

Letter: Incentives game’s rules. … Senate Bill 778 preserves the stringent environmental reviews and permitting processes companies must undergo in completing private projects that bring jobs. Nothing in the bill allows projects to escape environmental review. Instead, the bill simply clarifies the intent and appropriate application of the State Environmental Policy Act. SEPA is an effective tool to evaluate options for public (government) construction projects to assess environmental impacts. Applying SEPA to private projects was never envisioned because it would be redundant to existing processes and would delay projects and jobs by as much as two years.

Opinion: Is N.C. the trashiest state in America? It really “galls” me when visitors to our state remark that our roadways are more littered with trash than any of the other states they’ve visited. What really hurts though is the fact that I agree with them. The roadside litter in North Carolina is without a doubt the worse that I’ve ever seen and the problem doesn’t seem to be getting better. The problem of littering in North Carolina is not limited to the roads either. Visit most any river, public lake, tidal stream or even the oceanfront in some areas and you’ll find enough trash there to fill several trucks. … It’s a shame that several North Carolina municipalities and counties have imposed a dumping fee on folks who need to dispose of old tires, refrigerators and furniture, etc. In too many cases this results in the person wanting to get rid of bulky items dumping it out on some back roads that’s privately owned. In cases like this it’s up to the individual landowner to pursue charges or warnings to the violator.