Local governments in North Carolina are creatures of the state legislature. That is, the North Carolina constitution grants the General Assembly broad authority to establish and deal with local governments essentially whenever and however it sees fit.
The North Carolina Constitution states that:
“(t)he General Assembly shall provide for the organization and government and the fixing of boundaries of counties, cities and towns, and other governmental subdivisions, and, except as otherwise prohibited by (the) Constitution, may give such powers and duties to counties, cities and towns, and other governmental subdivisions as it may deem advisable.” (Article VII, Section 1)
Thus, if the General Assembly wants to create a city, county, or other local governmental unit, it is free to do so. If it wishes to abolish a local government, or to merge it with another, or to impose particular obligations on it, it has almost unlimited power to do as it chooses. In sum, North Carolina is not a “home rule” state, as that term is commonly understood. Its local governments exist by legislative benevolence, not by constitutional mandate.
Under North Carolina’s system, the extent of the power of local governing boards to adopt rules to govern the city’s or county’s affairs or the life of the community depends on what the General Assembly authorizes. As creatures of the state legislature, local governments may act only if they have legislative permission to do so.
Cities, counties, and local health agencies are the main types of local entities that the General Assembly has authorized to exercise a portion of the state’s police power at the local level. The elected governing boards of cities and counties are given broad, general delegations of authority to enact a wide variety of ordinances, or local laws, pertaining to the community’s health, safety, or general welfare and the abatement of nuisances (see North Carolina General Statutes 153A-121(a) and 160A-174(a), respectively).