Friday, November 10, 2017

Mayors voice concerns about provisions of federal tax reform package impacting cities

In a letter to the state’s Congressional delegation, more than 40 South Carolina mayors voiced their concern about a number of the proposals in the tax reform package being debated on Capitol Hill this week.

While noting the importance of proposal not including the elimination of the deduction on municipal bond interest, the mayors, representing cities as large as Columbia and as small as Ulmer, pointed to six proposals in the package that would be universally harmful to the state’s cities and towns:

•    Eliminating the deduction for state income and local and state sales taxes;
•    Limiting the deduction for city and county property taxes above $10,000;
•    Eliminating the New Markets Tax Credit, the Historic Preservation Tax Credit and the Work Opportunity Tax Credit;
•    Eliminating advance refunding of municipal bonds, effective December 31, 2017;
•    Eliminating Clean Renewable Energy Bonds, Energy Conservation Bonds, Qualified Zone Academy Bonds, Build America Bonds and other tax credit bonds effective December 31, 2017; and
•    Eliminating private activity bonds, effective December 31, 2017.

In the letter, the mayors told delegation members “We recognize that our federal tax code is complex and in need of simplification. However we have serious concerns about Congress reducing the flexibility of a variety of funding options local officials must have in order to raise the revenues needed to meet our communities’ needs.”

Debate on the tax reform package will continue next week.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Congressional tax reform harmful to cities: Package on a very aggressive timeline

The tax reform package released in Congress on November 2 could be devastating to local governments, and it’s on a fast track. 

This proposal would cap local property tax deductions, eliminate key credits like the Historic Tax Credit, and eliminate the state and local sales and income deductions. The House leadership plans to begin hearings on this bill on Monday. 

Get details on the plan.

According to the National League of Cities, there is an aggressive timeline to get the bill through the House and Senate by the end of the year. It’s all hands on deck time for members of the South Carolina delegation to hear from local leaders about the huge impact this tax proposal would have on our cities and towns.

Proposed timeline

In the House: The Ways and Means Committee is expected to start considering tax reform Monday, November 6. The meeting is scheduled to last more than one day to accommodate member statements, amendments considered and voted, and then the vote to report the bill to the full House.

If the Ways and Means Committee approves tax reform legislation as anticipated, the full House is expected to consider the bill the week of Nov. 13.

In the Senate: The Senate Finance Committee is expected to consider its version of tax reform legislation the week of Nov. 13.

The Senate version is expected to have notable changes to the House version, likely being more "moderate" on several tax provisions and policy than the House bill. If the Senate committee approves the bill the week of Nov. 13, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he expects the full Senate to consider the bill before Thanksgiving.

If this time frame holds, that would leave December for the House and Senate to reconcile differences between the bills, and significant differences are expected. The goal would be to send a final tax reform bill to the president by the end of the calendar year.

Congressman Tom Rice is on the House Ways and Means Committee. Senator Tim Scott is on the Senate Finance Committee. Both of them need to hear from South Carolina leaders!

Questions: Contact Reba Campbell at

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Ten cities receive economic developoment grants

Ten cities and towns across the state have received a Hometown Economic Development Grant from the Municipal Association of South Carolina.  

Cities ranging in population from 500 to 37,000 received grants. Anderson, Belton, Estill, Johnston, Lancaster, Landrum, McClellenville, Pickens, Spartanburg and West Columbia are this year’s grant recipients. 

The grants are to support economic development projects that will make a positive impact on the quality of life in their communities. The grant program also promotes and recognizes innovation in economic development practices.

Each municipality will receive $25,000 to implement a project ranging from community master plans and retail recruitment to downtown revitalization and tourism development.

The Municipal Association board of directors created this grant program two years ago to fund projects that will produce measurable results, can be maintained over time and illustrate best practices that can be replicated in other cities. Projects funded by the first round of grants awarded last year are already showing results.

Cities and towns receiving the grant must provide matching funds. Matching amounts, determined by a city’s population, will range from 5 percent to 15 percent of the grant award. Cities can use in-kind contributions or other grant funds as their match. Fifty-three municipalities applied for the grants.

An awards committee of former and current local government and state agency professionals evaluated the grant applications. Cities and towns receiving a grant must submit reports about the progress and successes of each grant-funded project and provide financial details of how the grant funds were used.

“These grants will help our cities and towns continue to strengthen their economic development efforts to attract and retain businesses in their downtowns and neighborhoods,” said Miriam Hair, executive director of the Municipal Association.

Get details about the projects and local contact information.

Friday, October 20, 2017

A snapshot of the state's growing drug epidemic

“There wasn’t a crack problem until there was a crack supply.” That somber statement led off SLED Major Frank O’Neal’s extensive presentation at the Municipal Association’s fall forum for city managers and administrators.

O’Neal briefed the managers on the growing epidemic of drug use in South Carolina. “Price, availability and tolerance have increased prescription drug use,” he said.

Highlights of O’Neal’s presentation included:

 ·       Examples of “pizza style" delivery of heroin where a user calls a dealer and the drug is dispatched for delivery as easily as ordering a pizza.

·       It’s impossible for law enforcement and policy makers to stay on top of all the variations of news drugs flooding the market.

·       Gathering data about where the drug incidents are occurring is critical because law enforcement can’t deploy resources without knowing exactly where the problems are.

·       A $6,000 - $7,000 investment in heroin creates revenue upwards of $80,000. This is a lucrative business.

·       Ninety-two percent of heroin users first use marijuana.

·       Fifty-seven percent of people who use heroin first used opioids.

·       Eighty percent of new heroin abusers were prescription drug users.

·       Availability of heroin increasing because of a reliable low-cost supply coming from Mexico.

“The number one thing we can do to combat this epidemic is educate our kids,” O’Neal stressed at the end of his presentation. “If we are quiet, this epidemic won't go away.”

Get O’Neal’s Power Point presentation that includes more details about the increasing problem of drug use in South Carolina.

Monday, October 16, 2017

SCORE . . . Recycle, Reuse, Reformat for Maximum Impact

By Reba Hull Campbell, Deputy Executive Director (from presentations to the 2017 Connect Conference by SCPRSA and IABC-SC on November 3, 2017 and the International City/County Management Conference in San Antonio, TX on October 24, 2017)

We hear a lot these days about the need to “tell our story” of the value of our local communities to residents and businesses. This is especially true as the proliferation of fake news – or maybe it’s just “news” that’s not grounded in truth or accountability has often hijacked our ability to do just that.

But, if we’re strategic in our thinking, we can get around this onslaught of “fake news” by taking our stories directly to our residents, customers and others interested in the success of our communities. 

The same internet that allows the spread of fake news can also allow the spread of our stories. Let’s use it for the good.

We used to hear about the old adage of the “rule of seven” in advertising. Someone must read or hear something seven times before remembering or taking action. In today’s world, that seven times has likely doubled.

According to a Pew Research Center report, our brains just aren’t wired to keep up with this rapid pace of information flow caused by technology. Unfortunately this article also points to many reasons why the proliferation of “fake news” will only get worse.

So how do we cope?

Let’s take our stories (or content) and SCORE using Strategic Content Organized for Reuse to Engage.

The SCORE strategy involves reusing, recycling and reformatting content to tell your story in a deeper, more engaging way to make new topically-connected content from different parts of the organization’s storehouses of content.

SCORE involves going directly to your audience rather than depending on others to tell your story.

This means more than just posting links to new website content in a weekly email or adding a paragraph at the end of a print magazine article about where to find more detail on the website.

It’s about strategically involving the entire organization in getting the maximum impact from existing content.

Tips for a successful SCORE strategy:

1 – Prioritize SCORE as an organization-wide strategy.
This process must address both long-range goals and short-range targets of opportunity for all outreach and communication with your important audiences. It’s not just a function of a communications department.

2 - Audit all the platforms (or communications tools) you have available to your organization. Make a simple spreadsheet that lays out all the ways the organization has to communicate – anything that communicates your message and your brand to your target audiences. Think beyond just print and digital and beyond traditional communications tools.

3 - Brainstorm with people all over your organization, not just the communications staff. You will probably be surprised to find how many platforms your organization uses that you may be overlooking. Are there staff members who regularly visit with or interact by phone with your customers? What are the information entry points into the organization (receptionist, front line workers, voice mail prompts)? What other organizations does the staff interact with that help (or could help) get the message out? For members of the communications team, this process also has the added benefit of increasing the visibility of the communications staff throughout the organization as a problem-solving, boundary spanning team.

4 – Identify the content you are pushing out over these platforms. This isn’t about creating more or new content  . . . it’s about leveraging the most and best use out of what already exists. Does the organization publish an article once in a newsletter and never reference that content again? Does its online newsletter link to new website content when it’s posted with the hope people find it after that? How can the content that is similar in topic be re-used to information out in another way?

5 - Integrate the SCORE strategy into all outreach efforts. An editorial calendar can be another page of the spreadsheet that inventories all of the organization’s platforms. Use the calendar to plan how content will be used. 

For example, a newsletter article may be reformatted into a shorter, more conversational blog post with a podcast attached. The article can be posted on the website with links to other site content related to the topic. Copies of the article can be used as training materials at a conference and condensed into a Power Point format. Content from the article can be reformatted into an editorial in the local newspaper from your organization’s leadership that would then reference back to the deeper content on your website.

The SCORE strategy is intended to be an ongoing process that’s constantly changing based on the content an organization has available to it. Being flexible and on the look-out for new content all the time are key.

What you do with your content after you create it is what really matters.

That’s what the SCORE strategy is all about.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

It’s Public Power Week – Thank a lineman

It’s Public Power Week – Thank a lineman.

When power goes out, your first thought will likely go to what’s in the fridge that could go bad, or maybe how hot or cold the house will get if the power’s off for long.

During a weather emergency, it can be easy to overlook the hundreds of highly trained men and women who are ready to be out in the elements. When we are safe in our homes during a storm, the linemen are out in the field while the utility directors and staff back at home base are also using their training and expertise to get power back on.

The week of October 1 is recognized as Public Power Week. In South Carolina, 170,000 residential and business customers in 21 cities and towns receive their power from municipal power systems range from in size from 360 to 37,000 customers.

This article from this month's issue of Uptown illustrates how municipal public power systems bring value to their communities.

All 21 municipal power systems are members of an affiliate organization of the Municipal Association called the South Carolina Association of Municipal Power Systems. SCAMPS was founded more than
38 years ago to provide mutual aid to fellow cities in times of emergency in situations like we have experienced recently with Irma. SCAMPS has now grown to also include training and advocacy.

We know what these utility workers have to do in an emergency. Want to know more about what a utility director does on a regular day? Read this article from Uptown to get a sense of the variety of responsibilities a utility director has.

Linemen are also important players in the utility business. Each year, SCAMPS sponsors a lineman training event and competition for member cities. Read more about the various events in this Uptown article.

This blog post from the week after Irma tells the story of several SCAMPS member-utilities that sent crews to Georgia and Florida (scroll to the bottom of the post). 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

FOIA in flux: Topic at upcoming MFOCTA meeting

By Tiger Wells, government affairs liaison

They say in life, change is the only constant. When it comes to the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act, the last few years have certainly proven that statement true.

There is a lot to review - whether observing the back and forth between the S.C. Supreme Court and General Assembly on issues related to meeting agendas, witnessing the fallout resulting from public bodies that have handled executive sessions improperly, or participating in the educational blitz that resulted from the legislature’s recent overhaul of FOIA related to fee schedules and such.

In 2014, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that agendas are not required for regularly scheduled local government meetings. That opinion, however was immediately undone by the S.C. General Assembly in 2015. 

Not only did the General Assembly pass legislation expressly requiring an agenda for such meetings, but it also laid out how agendas may be amended within 24 hours of a meeting.

In 2015, 2016 and 2017, South Carolina courts reprimanded local governing bodies for either entering executive session improperly by failing to announce the specific purpose for the executive session, or for improperly taking action after executive session without giving the public notice of such action. In those cases, municipalities and counties paid penalties ranging from just north of $13,000 to somewhere in the realm of $40,000. Costly lessons for sure.

Finally, in 2017, everyone following events at the State House witnessed the culmination of several years of work by legislators, the S.C. Press Association, the Municipal Association and various other stakeholder organizations and individuals with the passage of a significant FOIA overhaul in H.3352. This legislation introduced a number of changes regarding S.C. public bodies’ handling of public business.

Along with the changes made to FOIA, the legislation included expanded protections for personal information through changes to the Family Privacy Protection Act. The Municipal Association specifically addressed best practices for handling FOIA requests for information that could be used for commercial solicitation through educational conference calls and follow-up correspondence specifically addressing the issue of commercial solicitation.

From new fee schedule requirements to expanded protection against burdensome, vague, repetitive and otherwise improper FOIA requests, there was plenty in this legislation for advocates of efficient and effective government and transparency.

In response to these recent changes, the S.C. Press Association has updated its FOIA handbook.

It is said that sunlight is the best disinfectant. In the context of conducting the public’s business, this statement is widely accepted by government leaders as true. Perhaps more importantly, it has come to be expected and appreciated by the public itself. 

The October meeting of the Municipal Finance Officers and Clerk Treasurers Association in Spartanburg will feature attorneys Lawrence Flynn and C.D. Rhodes presenting a timely guide through all of the FOIA flux mentioned above. Registration deadline is Friday, October 6.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Social media helps local leaders during Irma

This week’s hurricane reminds us all about the importance of planning and preparation. But it’s not just about evacuation plans, inventory of sandbags and public safety readiness.

The ability to communicate effectively in an emergency can mean the difference between a smooth process and a disastrous one.

This week’s earlier blog post showcases how Bluffton and Edisto Beach effectively used social media as part of their emergency communications plans. An article in the January issue of Uptown, showcased Mount Pleasant and North Charleston’s social media use last year during Hurricane Matthew.

Back in June, members of the SC Association of Municipal Power Systems participated in a session at their annual meeting that gave step by step plans for incorporating social media into emergency preparedness planning. Get the handout.

Still a little intimidated about hashtags? Don’t quite understand the difference between Twitter and Facebook? Not sure how to grow your base of fans and friends? Take a look at this glossary the SCAMPS members got during their session this summer that outlines what all this means.

Here are a few tips on integrating social media into your emergency preparedness plans:

•    Remind followers and friends to adjust their settings to receive a notification when new information is posted.

•    Plan ahead. Setting up social media accounts on the fly during an emergency can be counter-productive.

•    Get training on equipment. Even if you’re just using a cell phone for Facebook Live broadcasts, make sure the phone has a fully charged battery. Check the lighting to make sure everyone who needs to be seen in the video is well lit. Run a quick sound check to make sure the audio of the person speaking is clear and the ambient sound doesn’t overwhelm the speaker.

•    Ensure everyone who needs access to the sites has it. The middle of a hurricane isn’t the time to be searching out passwords or debating who has access.

•    Be consistent. Scheduling Facebook Live briefings in advance to help drive traffic.

•    Work with other officials involved with the emergency to share and retweet posts. There’s no need for everyone to be creating the same content. Leverage other information sources to share.

•    Put one person in charge of managing the social media. This doesn’t mean one person has to do it all, but one person needs to be aware of what’s going out and what’s being planned at all times to avoid duplication and ensure accuracy.

•    Keep equipment charged at all times. Make use of the small portable USB chargers. The middle of a Facebook Live briefing isn’t the time to lose the phone’s charge.

Get more social media resources on the Association's website.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Cities showcase collaboration during Irma: Social media and mutual aid

A crisis can often bring people together in ways we don't expect. The past week with Irma's progress has illustrated in several ways how crises bring out the collaborative spirit in South Carolina cities.

There are so many great examples of leaders of South Carolina cities and towns taking full advantage of the collaborative nature of social media as they anticipated impact from Irma. Elected officials, police chiefs, EMD officials and others made frequent use of Facebook Live and posted often with safety updates and photos/videos of affected areas.

Facebook followers could adjust their personal settings to get notifications when a Facebook Live event was happening helping hundreds of people stay on top of the ever-changing forecast.

Coastal cities leverage social media
Take a look at what a couple of coastal cities have been doing.

Bluffton: A constant stream of photo and video updates on Facebook gave residents who stayed and those who evacuated up-to-the-minute updates on flooding, evacuation routes and general safety tips. Mayor Sulka’s informal and frequent updates prompted lots of positive feedback from residents and others who have visited Bluffton.

Several Facebook posts gave shout-outs to city staff members who were quickly dispatched to clean up debris. The town Facebook page and the police department Facebook cross-posted many posts allowing a great reach for both.

The town's Facebook page also shared links to the Governor's press conferences and other messages from the state Emergency Management Division.

Edisto Beach: With their second big hurricane hit in less than a year, Edisto officials already knew the power of social media to disseminate safety information and help residents find out about the state of their property. In fact, during the aftermath of Matthew, Mayor Jane Darby’s Facebook post about the plight of Nichols went viral and brought in many offers of help for the small Pee Dee town even while her own town was digging out. The Irma response was no different. 

Mayor Darby used her page to keep people informed, while also cross-posting with the town’s page and the police department’s page.

The Edisto Beach Facebook page also shared links to local news media coverage giving residents and others a one-stop-shop for information.

Mutual aid for municipal electric utilities
The state’s 21 electric cities initially came together more than 30 years ago to form the SC Association of Municipal Power Systems to serve as a conduit for mutual aid in emergencies. The power of this collaboration is never more evident than in a situation like Irma.

Jimmy Bagley, Rock Hill’s deputy city manager, has long been the point of contact for SCAMPS member-utilities offering and needing assistance. Already, Camden has sent crews to help in Sandersville, GA. Crews from several SCAMPS cities are on site today in Seneca and Laurens helping to restore power. Additionally plans are in place for a caravan of SCAMPS crews and equipment to leave tomorrow morning to assist the Jacksonville Energy Authority.

Watch for upcoming posts with tips on using social media in a crisis.

Monday, September 11, 2017

2016 grant winners showing progress: 2017 applications due Sept. 29

Success can be slow in coming sometimes. But when it comes to the Municipal Association’s Hometown Economic Development Grants program, results have come quickly for several cities and towns that were awarded grants in 2016. 

Beaufort Digital Corridor
The Beaufort Digital Corridor opened in January in the City of Beaufort and has already attracted several tenants who are using the BASEcamp hub to incubate their high-tech startups. This local news report describes the program.

The Town of West Pelzer and the Town of Pelzer teamed up to win a grant to fund a master plan for their shared Main Street. This local newspaper article describes the plan that will help guide the towns’ collective futures as they prepare for growth.

One of the three winners of the Gaffney Main Street Challenge is already open for business in downtown Gaffney while the others will be opening soon, providing much-needed foot traffic for other downtown merchants. Read more about the challenge’s winners in this local newspaper article and from this local television report.
Ridgeway School Arch

The Town of Ridgeway finished “Painting the Town Red with Revitalization” when work to stabilize the historic school arch and the world’s smallest police station was recently completed. Read more about Ridgeway’s success in this Uptown article.

Walterboro is making progress toward wrapping up its engineering plans for the
Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary Discovery Center and will be putting the project out for bid soon. Read this local news article for more information.

Building on the program’s initial success, the Association’s board of directors increased funding for the program for more grants that will enhance economic development opportunities and have a positive effect on residents’ quality of life. At least ten grants of a maximum of $25,000 each will be awarded in 2017.

Online applications for 2017 grant awards are being accepted until September 29, and winners will be announced no later than October 31. Get more information and details on the application process.