Friday, June 24, 2016

Parks make their mark

This week’s blog post from the SC Economic Developers Association points out some positive statistics related to the economic impact of national and state parks in South Carolina. In 2014, the state’s national parks had an economic impact of $105.9 million, while the state parks brought in $26.9 million in direct revenue alone.

Hartsville's Piratesville splash pad
These economic impact numbers grow further when you add city parks into the equation. While there is no central location that measures direct economic impact of city parks and recreation programs, we know that the traditional city parks with swings and slides have given way to handicap accessible parks, water pads, sports tournaments and trails that draw tourists and residents alike. 

Quidditch tournament in Rock Hill
Sports tourism is booming in city parks all over the state. Rock Hill’s velodrome is one of the latest additions to the growing number of sports tourism venues around the state. Emerging sports like Quidditch, pickleball, disc golf and ultimate Frisbee is also bring tourists and dollars into our cities with tournaments, while traditional youth and police sports leagues continue to grow. 

Walterboro's Wildlife Sanctuary
Passive parks that offer quiet greenspace offer even more opportunities for residents and visitors to enjoy the outdoor amenities in South Carolina’s cities. From Greenville’s Falls Park to Walterboro’s Wildlife Sanctuary, there is something for everyone in the city-owned parks. 

Trails in urban areas as well as trails that run between cities are becoming increasingly popular. The City of Florence has a network of trails that runs throughout city, many of which connect city parks to one another. Plus, many segments of the Palmetto Trail run through South Carolina cities and towns.

The Swamp Rabbit Trail between Greenville and Trail and the Doodle Trail linking Easley and Pickens cater to bicyclists and walkers alike. Both of these trails were built on former rail beds connecting the two cities. 

Keeping parks clean and crime-free is a goal of all city park programs, but there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes to make this happen. Many cities rely on volunteers to help keep grounds clean, coach teams or tend gardens. In Charleston, for example, “park angels” volunteer to work with and learn from the city’s horticulturalist.

While this means more opportunities for residents to be involved in city programs, it also increases the potential for injury and liability claims. City officials manage these risks through training and background checks, so that residents and visitors enjoy these opportunities while ensuring these municipal assets don’t become municipal liabilities.

At the upcoming Annual Meeting in Charleston, there will be a breakout session examining trends in public recreation.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Training is a must for planning and zoning officials

Listen to a podcast interview with Jeff Shacker, field services manager, about planning and zoning training.

Planning and zoning are two responsibilities of municipal government that the public often doesn’t see until there is a problem. Whether it’s a zoning decision a landowner disagrees with or a planning commission decision that doesn’t align with state law, controversy around planning and zoning will likely occur in just about every city at some point.

While it may be impossible to completely avoid controversy in these areas, proper training for appointed officials and staff who deal with planning and zoning is not just a good idea, it’s required by state law. 

Here’s the background….going back as far as 1924, the legislature granted local governments the authority to take on planning and zoning to manage growth and development. Local governments are not mandated to perform these duties. Each municipality must decide whether to exercise its planning authority. However, if local officials want to enact zoning regulations, they must also implement a planning program. 

All municipal planning and zoning must conform with the 1994 state South Carolina Local Government Planning Enabling Act (SC Code Title 6, Chapter 29). Plus, a 2003 amendment established mandatory training requirements for all appointees and staff involved with local planning and zoning.

The consequence for not meeting the training requirement is severe. An appointed official can be removed from office, and a professional employee can be suspended or dismissed. It could also be grounds for a legal challenge of official actions taken by a board or commission.

There are many roles in the planning and zoning process, and the Municipal Association has lots of resources for elected and appointed officials and staff who deal with these issues. The Comprehensive Planning Guide is a one-stop-shop for any questions related to planning and zoning. Also, the Association provides the required orientation and continuing education training. Plus there’s a listserv that planning and zoning staff can use to ask questions and share ideas.

Mayors and councilmembers can learn about planning and zoning from a Session A class in the Municipal Elected Officials Institute of Government. Officials attending the upcoming Annual Meeting can learn more about how to avoid the legal liability associated with planning and zoning decisions at a break-out session on Thursday, July 14.

The Association’s field services managers say they frequently get questions about the training requirements for planning and zoning officials. Get a few of them answered here and listen to a podcast interview with Jeff Shacker, one of the Association's field services managers, to learn more.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Tiny houses may cause big challenges

Are you a fan of HGTV, the home and garden network? It’s recently become home to four programs all showing off the new trend in housing – small spaces. These shows sell the fun and functional lifestyle of living in a home as small as 100 square feet.

Coming on the heels of the huge home McMansion trend of the past 10 years, these accessory dwelling units, often called granny pads or tiny houses, are becoming increasingly popular for people looking to downsize, make money or house relatives.

As fun as the idea sounds, these small living spaces bring up big questions related to regulation and safety for local governments.

South Carolina cities are beginning to grapple with these questions as the trend moves from the tourism-based or larger communities to cities of all sizes. From considering parking regulations to discussing density concerns, city officials are talking about all the implications of this new trend.

Get a preview of a July Uptown article on this topic here.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Telling great stories of SC cities and towns

By Reba Campbell, deputy executive director

Part of what we do at the Municipal Association is tell the stories about the great things going on in cities of all sizes around the state. Among the many ways we share these stories is through our monthly Uptown newsletter. It’s 16 pages chock full of feature stories, best practices, kudos and training topics of interest to elected officials and city staff. 

Often we learn about these success stories from reading local newspapers. So, it was really nice this week when we could turn the tables when a local newspaper used Uptown as the source for a column. 

The Greenwood Index Journal ran an editorial praising the Greenwood County cities for several important economic development successes. Two articles that were in the May issue of Uptown prompted the editorial. It’s nice to see Uptown’s reach go beyond our audience of municipal officials!

Uptown has been around since 1975 and was preceded by SC City that launched in 1959. It’s gone from a simple typeset black-and-white publication to a full-color professionally written and designed newsletter that is painstakingly and strategically planned and published 11 times annually. It is mailed to more than 4,000 municipal officials, legislators and news media the first week of each month. Or…if you’d rather have it delivered online, we do that too.

Many of you know Uptown’s long-time editor, Mary Brantner, retired at the end of May after serving in this role for 28 years. She was the meticulous editor, talented writer, master planner, thorough researcher and patient cat herder who kept the process of planning, writing, editing and distributing Uptown on time and on budget. Over the years, she worked on more than 300 issues that included somewhere near 7,000 articles. That’s a lot of words! 

We congratulate Mary on her well-deserved retirement, and welcome to our staff Sarita Chourey, who has taken over as editor of Uptown. Sarita has a journalism background having served as the bureau chief and State House reporter/blogger for several South Carolina newspapers. She covered city issues for many years and will bring a unique perspective to our content going forward.

Often the best Uptown story ideas are those we get from local officials,so please share your successes with Sarita! We particularly like to include articles in Uptown about projects, programs and services in cities that meet a universal challenge or that can be duplicated in other cities.

The June Uptown should have already arrived in your mailbox. Or you can read it online now here. If you’d like to get the e-version in addition to, or in place of, the paper version, just go to your member home page from the Municipal Association website and change your subscription options in the top right corner of the page.

Happy reading!

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 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.