Thursday, May 26, 2016

Millage cap data now available

Listen to a podcast interview with Melissa Carter, the Association's research and legislative liaison, as she discusses background and details about the millage cap.

The state Office of Revenue and Fiscal Affairs last week released data the data that cities need to calculate their individual millage cap. Get the information for each city here.

Why is this number so important to cities each year? 

In 2006, the General Assembly passed Act 388 (scroll to Section 6-1-320) that capped how much local governments can increase their operating millage each year. The calculation for this cap on raising property tax rates is the increase in the Consumer Price Index plus the increase in the local government’s population. 

If either the CPI or the population is a negative increase, then the number for the calculation is zero. The Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office performs the calculation and typically releases this information annually in late May.

The RFA released the FY 2017 municipal millage caps on Friday, May 21. The CPI for the calculation is .12 percent. Get individual cities’ cap information here.

Are there any exceptions to the cap? 

With a two-thirds vote, the council can use one of the following seven exceptions to increase millage beyond the amount established by the cap.

1- Make up a deficit from the preceding year 
2- Pay for a catastrophic event 
3- Comply with a court order 
4- Cover a loss of 10 percent of more of property taxes due to taxpayer closure 
5- Comply with state or federal mandate 
6- Purchase undeveloped property near a military base 
7- Purchase capital equipment in a county with less than 100,000 population and at least 40 acres of state forest land 

The cap does not impact millage that is levied to pay bond debt, to purchase real property with a lease-purchase agreement or to maintain a reserve account. 

So what if a city doesn’t use the increases allowed each year? 

The General Assembly passed Act 57 in 2011 that created the millage bank. This allows a local government to raise the millage rate with any unused millage from the past three years’ cap plus the current year’s cap.

Get background on millage caps here. Listen to the podcast here.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Speak up with confidence

Public speaking is a challenge for some. For others, it can be downright terrifying. Even the most experienced speakers can learn new ways to perfect their message and strengthen their connection with an audience.
Jenny Maxwell with the Buckley School of Public Speaking in Camden offers up a few tips to help speakers increase their confidence in front of any type of audience. 

At a preconference session at this year's Annual Meeting, Jenny is back by popular demand to expand on the session she led at last year’s meeting to help speakers make their message come to life. This hands-on interactive public speaking class is one of three preconference sessions offered this year the first day of the meeting, Thursday, July 14, in Charleston.

Listen to a podcast interview with Jenny talking about several of these tips she will discuss during the session. 

Start strong - Put together an open that grabs attention. Let the audience know what you’re talking about and why they should care. 

Use simple words - Fancy words don’t impress. They confuse. Choose what speechwriter Peggy Noonan calls “good, hard, simple words with good, hard, clear meanings.” 

Avoid tentative language - Frequent use of “I think” or “I believe” or “kinda sorta definitely” undermine your message. 

Cut the fluff - No need to add “I want you to understand that…” or “here is a story that will help you see what I mean.” Jump to the substance that follows. 

Identify with the audience - Avoid “I urge you …” or “you must….” Look for ways to say “We’re in this together.” 

Minimize jargon - Jargon can be efficient. It can indicate knowledge of a company or field. But excessive use of jargon makes language boring and confuses people less familiar with your “secret code.” 

End well - Conclude by reminding the audience of your major point and why they care. If there are next steps, those might be part of a conclusion, too.

Municipal officials can register for the Annual Meeting, the preconference sessions and the awards breakfast on June 1 and 2 during pre-assigned registration appointments. Get more information here.

Podcast interview with Jenny.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Sneak peek at Achievement Award winners

It’s spring and that means the Association is gearing up for its Annual Meeting July 14 – 17 in Charleston. One of the meeting highlights is always the sold-out Achievement Awards breakfast on Saturday morning.

For more than 20 years, the awards breakfast has featured the winners in a series of videos that tells the story of these projects. While the video presentations run about three minutes for each winner, the behind-the-scenes production process rivals a full-length movie (well almost).

The Association works with a production company out of Columbia, Dust of the Ground, to produce these videos. The company’s videographers spend the better part of three weeks each May traveling the state with Association staff shooting the winning cities’ stories of their projects. The Association staff and video crew spend a full day in each winning city to document the project.

“Despite meticulously laid plans for each visit, we never know exactly what we will find when we arrive,” said Meredith Houck, the Association’s creative services and website manager who produces the video series. “Experiences we’ve had filming these videos over the years have included everything from bulldozing buildings to tracking bobcats to corralling dogs in costume.”

This year, the cast of extras at the Isle of Palms taping included a dozen or so dogs that had participated in the town’s winning project, Doggie Day at the Rec. The dogs were filmed parading around the town’s rec center in their winning costumes and visiting the beach for an off-leash romp. 
All humans who participate in the production sign release forms, but at the Isle of Palms filming, the dogs signed releases, too.

Another frequent highlight is experiencing the hidden gems in cities. “One of my favorite surprises of this year’s taping trips was the incredible view we got to enjoy while filming in Seneca’s new water treatment plant,” said Reba Campbell, the Association’s deputy executive director. “Situated on Lake Keowee in Seneca, the water treatment plant is more than just a practical facility. It’s also a beautiful community meeting space for the surrounding neighborhoods.”

Florence’s winning entry involved moving an unsightly junkyard from the center of town. “During the filming, we discovered one of the pieces of junk removed from the junkyard was a plane fuselage,” Meredith said.

Upon arrival in Fountain Inn's city hall, the crew was greeted by Cities Mean Business banners that the city had localized for its own use.

 A daily highlight of these production trips is the decision on where to get a good local lunch. The crew always opts for local joints that showcase the city’s unique food options. 

“During our day on Edisto Island, we got to join the mayor and town staff at a hole-in-the wall restaurant the mayor told us mainly locals know about,” Reba said. “The food was great, but so was the ‘Cheers factor’ of this place where the mayor knew the name of everyone who walked in.” 

Tickets for the awards breakfast will be sold during the June 1 and 2 Annual Meeting registration appointments. Cities must sign up by May 17 to participate in the lottery that determines the order of registration appointments. More information about the Annual Meeting registration process is here.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Placemaking: Focusing on the importance of the human experience in a city

Increasingly, we are hearing the term “placemaking” used as an economic development strategy. Placemaking is the idea of focusing on the importance of the human experience—walkable areas, lively neighborhoods and inviting public space. 

Read about this Charleston
placemaking project in the
May Uptown

For example, certain cities around the country seem to be magnets for talented young professionals. It’s not because of the cities’ taxes or regulations but, very simply, because of their "place," according to Dan Gilmartin, executive director and CEO of the Michigan Municipal League, and a national leader in the field of placemaking. These cities are the kinds of places that attract a young, well-educated, talented workforce.

(Listen to a podcast interview with Gilmartin talking more about placemaking.)

Gilmartin said these young professionals are looking for 21st century communities that put a focus on 1) physical design and walkability, 2) green initiatives, 3) cultural economic development, 4) entrepreneurship, 5) multiculturalism, 6) technology, 7) transit and 8) education.

Placemaking starts with an inclusive, bottom-up approach, often driven by individuals who want to make a change or impact on their community. The city then needs to create the platform for that change to occur, Gilmartin said.

Historic districts, for example, often happen when one entrepreneur or a group decides to come in and make changes. The city would need to facilitate those changes to spur economic growth.

The Mount Pleasant mayor brings
town hall out to the community
Civic engagement is an important piece of placemaking. Elected officials need to realize that they have to engage people differently. Gilmartin said there are many people who want to be involved in civic life, but they’re not going to meetings at city hall.

Learn more about placemaking and what South Carolina experts have to say about the topic in the May issue of Uptown. During the Association’s Annual Meeting in July, there will be a half-day preconference session on the topic of placemaking.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Be prepared - what cities need to know about Zika

With the recent emergence and rapid spread of the Zika virus abroad, government leaders at all levels have been working to understand the disease and how to prevent, detect and respond to it. Although no cases of local mosquito-borne transmission of the Zika virus have been confirmed in the United States, there have been dozens of travel-associated cases reported.
Chris Evans, public health entomologist with DHEC, briefed city managers today about the Zika threat. His power point is linked here along with a lot of other good local government resources.

Before 2015, Zika virus outbreaks occurred in areas of Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. In May 2015, Zika virus infections were reported in Brazil, and currently outbreaks are occurring in many countries in South America, Central America and the Caribbean. Cases also have been reported in U.S. territories.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Zika will continue to spread and it will be difficult to determine how and where the virus will appear over time.

Local government officials have a key role to play in preventing and responding to the threat of Zika through mosquito abatement and public education.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control recently convened a forum of state and local officials to discuss the Zika virus and resources available to local governments in recognition of their role as the front-line defense against the spread of any mosquito-borne viruses.

There's a great DHEC blog post here with details of forum.

Local officials should have mosquito control plans in place that, at a minimum, address abatement and public education. Mosquito control plans involve many municipal departments, including public works, code enforcement and communications, so it’s important elected officials and staff understand their respective roles.

While some cities and towns have their own mosquito abatement plans to destroy mosquito breeding areas and spray pesticides, the best option for many may be to partner with their county government through intergovernmental agreements for mosquito abatement, particularly spraying.

Also, code enforcement can play an important role in abatement efforts. Cities and towns should have and enforce local ordinances aimed at cleaning up properties that harbor mosquito breeding areas. Anything that can hold even an ounce of water is a potential mosquito breeding area. Unkempt properties are prime mosquito breeding areas that local officials can address through code enforcement ordinances.

Educating the public about the dangers of mosquito-borne illness should be an integral part of any mosquito abatement plan. Public information efforts about the virus and how to stop its spread are prime opportunities for local officials to use all available communication tools, including social media.

Multiple resources are available to help officials develop and implement local mosquito control plans. SCDHEC, Clemson University’s Department of Pesticide Regulation, the SC Mosquito Control Association and the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health all offer valuable information.

More information and links to resources are available at (keyword: mosquito abatement). Plus there will be a session at the Annual Meeting focusing on this topic.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

FOIA update: executive session action on agenda

Listen to the City Quick Connect podcast interview with the Association's Tiger Wells answering questions about this recent ruling.

The SC Supreme Court recently ruled in the case of Brock v Town of Mount Pleasant regarding executive sessions. Brock alleged the town violated the Freedom of Information Act by listing an executive session on its agenda but not indicating council would take action after the executive session.

This ruling indicates a public body, after exiting executive session, may only take action on a matter discussed during the closed session if the agenda acknowledges the possibility of that action.

The following statement should be included on the agenda after an executive session listed on the agenda: “Upon returning to open session, Council may take action on matters discussed in executive session.”

In light of the changes that were made to the FOIA law’s notice provisions in 2015 following the Lambries case, this rule also likely applies when a regular or special meeting agenda is amended to add an executive session regarding a topic that was not included on the agenda published prior to the meeting.

The Association's Tiger Wells discusses this ruling and answers questions on the City Quick Connect podcast. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Annexation bill on deck this week

Earlier this year, South Carolina Representative Mary Tinkler (D-Charleston) introduced the Local Government Efficiency Act in the General Assembly. If passed, H4834 would allow cities and towns to annex enclaves into their municipal limits. Enclaves are properties that are completely surrounded by a city but not within the municipal limits. 

This bill is scheduled for a hearing on April 13 at 9:30 a.m. in the Special Laws Subcommittee of House Judiciary chaired by Rep. Jenny Horne.

“The bill‘s sponsors—eight Republicans and four Democrats—clearly show that the challenges posed by enclaves are not partisan,” said Scott Slatton, the Association’s legislative and public policy advocate.

Bill cosponsor Representative Kit Spires (R-Lexington) expressed his desire to reduce enclaves after hearing from Pelion Mayor Barbara Smith-Carey about the issues her town faces when dealing with enclaves.

Mayor Smith-Carey cited three reasons why it’s important to her to bring enclave properties into her town: keeping enclave residents safe with town police protections, protecting property values through code enforcement and equity among residents who receive town services. 

“I support all efforts to encourage efficiency within government,” explained Representative Neil Collins (R-Pickens), another cosponsor. “I applaud Representative Tinkler and H4834’s intent to allow municipalities to better offer public services to their areas.” 

Enclaves create irregular borders and pockets of unincorporated areas that lead to confusion about which properties are in or out of a city. That confusion leads to delayed or inefficient delivery of services from the mundane like trash collection to potentially life-saving services like police and fire. 

The Local Government Efficiency Act would allow a city council to annex, by ordinance, properties of 25 acres or less that have been surrounded by the city for five years or more.

The 25-acre threshold was determined after Association staff consulted with city and town managers and administrators from across the state. They indicated that the bulk of their city’s enclaves were 25 acres or less and that those enclaves were the greatest challenges to efficient service delivery.

If the proposed Local Government Efficiency Act becomes law, the city must notify owners of the enclave properties proposed for annexation of the city’s intention to annex their property. The city must also hold a public hearing conducted at least 30 days before first reading of the ordinance to annex.

The notice provisions in the bill are consistent with those in current law dealing with municipal incorporation, zoning and other land use measures.

Learn more about enclave annexation here.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Summertime is calling...parks take center stage

Summer is just around the corner and that means activities in our city parks and recreation facilities ramp up. The April Uptown is full of great information about new things going in city recreation programs. 

From handicapped-accessible playground equipment to miracle fields that let disabled children play organized baseball to beach accesses wide enough for wheelchairs, the April Uptown spotlights efforts in Hartsville, Greer, Summerville, Myrtle Beach, Mauldin and Mount Pleasant to make park facilities more accessible to handicapped residents. 

While active parks such as playgrounds and ball fields may offer the most obvious physical benefits, passive parks, with their benches, trails or greenspace, also play an important role in the community’s well-being. The April Uptown also features diverse passive parks in Greenville, Walterboro and Charleston.

Rock Hill
Gone are the days when public parks consisted solely of some children’s swings and slides. New sports options such as Quiddich, ultimate frisbee and disc golf increase options for participation in city rec programs. Find out how Rock Hill, Conway, North Myrtle Beach and Barnwell are offering a wide variety of programming to attract everyone from youngsters to senior citizens. Read also about the growth of sports tourism in Rock Hill.

While these diverse parks and recreational facilities mean more opportunities for residents, they also increase the potential for injury and liability claims. Read about what city officials need to know to evaluate all risks to reduce potential liability. 

Finally, read about what Education Superintendent Molly Spearman told local officials at Hometown Legislative Action Day about the great potential for city parks to partner with their local schools for strong after-school and summer programs.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

SC Day of Service: May 21

By Tiger Wells, Government Affairs Liaison

South Carolina had quite a year in 2015. Our state faced unparalleled tragedies, yes. But our state also demonstrated to the world what it looks like when communities can pull together across the historical lines that divide. In short, South Carolinians shined through service.

As a member of the 2016 Leadership South Carolina class, I was so pleased when our group was asked to come up with a project aimed at improving the way South Carolina is viewed internally. We decided that a project promoting unity through service would be appropriate. We know that when people serve together they not only forge and strengthen enduring bonds, but they also improve the way they feel about their community in the process.

The 2016 class of Leadership South Carolina has worked with the General Assembly and Governor Haley to establish May 21, 2016, as the inaugural “South Carolina Day of Service.”  This will be an ongoing observance for all South Carolinians to roll up their sleeves and serve a worthy cause.

Local officials can be an important part of this effort. Councils can adopt a resolution acknowledging “South Carolina Day of Service”(get a sample resolution here).

Municipal leaders can encourage residents to join in and add their act of service to the statewide service going on that day. If they like, cities can offer specific local projects on May 21.

The service performed on May 21 doesn’t have to be anything grand, although it can be. It can be something relatively easy like taking food to someone who is sick or mowing a neighbor’s grass. Or it can be something more involved like participating in one of the many ongoing recovery projects stemming from last October’s flood. Regardless, everyone can do something.

It’s easy to participate. Link here to get more information about how you can get involved.

The hope is that through such service our communities might become closer, South Carolinians might then view our state in a more positive light, and that light may then be seen by those outside of our state, as it was in 2015. Dum spiro, spero.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Greenwood Shows its Stuff

The City of Greenwood rolled out the red carpet welcoming a group of mayors for a day-long tour showing off downtown, touting relationships with local organizations and sharing economic development successes.

The day kicked off in the newly refurbished Inn on the Square with Greenwood City Manager Charlie Barrineau briefing mayors from around the state about the rebirth of downtown, city events, relationships with Greenwood County and plans for the future.

Charlie told the group about how, in the 1970s, a rail line ran through the middle of downtown. There was little in the way of retail, restaurants, housing and entertainment to attract people to the area. Today, thanks to a long-range master plan, the rail line is gone, plants and trees abound, restaurants thrive, retail is growing and people are moving in.

Charlie talked with the mayors about the events the city hosts over the course of the year to attract people downtown. Flowers and foliage are one focus city leaders identified as a draw to the city. The Annual Festival of Flowers every summer brings thousands downtown and features 40 life sized topiaries ranging from a Gamecock and a Tiger to a giraffe and a horse

“We don’t have a beach or a mountain, but we do have these unique topiaries that bring thousands of people here,” Charlie explained when talking about why the city invests in growing and maintaining these topiaries and other plants in its own greenhouse.

The Festival of BBQ every July is another huge draw to downtown. “With Carolina Pride as one of our big corporate leaders in town, we sure better have one of the biggest BBQ festivals in the state,” Charlie said. There's also a Carolina Pride pig among the collection of topiary characters.

Arts Center
The city also focused on creating a concentration of arts and cultural facilities downtown. An arts center located in the former post office, a reclaimed movie theater that’s now a theater for plays and other live events, and a museum of local history anchor a single block in the middle of downtown. Charlie said these arts groups always coordinate events to ensure maximum participation.

When asked about how the city promotes the many events downtown, Charlie touted the value of social media. He ticked off the several dozen Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages plus the YouTube channel he manages for the city and various venues and events.

Mayors also got a windshield tour of downtown to see the new farmers market, refurbished downtown facades, the Greenwood Genetics Center, Lander’s athletic fields and the city greenhouse.

Throughout the day, Charlie fielded questions from the mayors who were curious about everything from the funding sources Greenwood used for infrastructure improvements to how long it takes to keep up with all the social media outreach.
Newberry Mayor Foster Senn noted at the end of the day, “I can get so much out of visiting another city, talking to other mayors and learning from others’ successes on these city tours.”