Thursday, January 14, 2021

Standardizing Business Licenses in 2021

After years of work and discussion about the complexity of collecting the business license tax levied by many cities and towns in South Carolina, the General Assembly passed the SC Business License Tax Standardization Act last September. The new law standardizes many of the elements of administering the tax — elements that were previously decided by each municipality. 

The law requires these standardization measures of cities and towns with the tax by January 1, 2022:
  • License periods beginning May 1 and ending April 30.
  • Calculating the tax based on a business’ gross income for the previous calendar year or its previous fiscal year.
  • Using the law’s definition of gross income. 
  • Accepting a standardized application approved by the SC Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office. 
  • Using the law’s standardized class schedule. 
  • Allowing businesses to make license renewal payments through an online payment system hosted by the SC Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office. 
  • Using the law’s standardized appeals process. 
  • Setting rates for the 2022 license year — May 1, 2022, to April 30, 2023 — to prevent any revenue windfall for the taxing jurisdiction during the first year of compliance. 

During 2021, cities and towns will need to adopt business license ordinances that comply with the new law. The Municipal Association strongly recommends cities and towns repeal their existing ordinances and then replace them the Association’s 2021 model business license ordinance, which will be available soon. 

Achieving compliance with the new law will require a phased approach. Throughout 2021, the Municipal Association’s staff will work to help municipal staff comply with the new requirements. Here are a few resources for getting started: 

Thursday, December 17, 2020

2021 Advocacy Initiatives Address Broadband, Public Safety Funding and Planning

The South Carolina General Assembly’s next two-year legislative session begins in January, and the Municipal Association of SC board of directors has approved the 2021 Advocacy Initiatives that the Association staff, along with local officials, will pursue. 

The initiatives come out of the input that cities and towns provide at Regional Advocacy Meetings during the fall. The board’s legislative committee then considers all issues and provides recommendations to the board. The Association offers a sample proclamation that cities and towns can use to adopt the Advocacy Initiatives. 

Here are the initiatives: 
  • Broadband expansion
    The Association will seek to amend the newly adopted broadband expansion law to allow cities and towns to not only lay fiber, but also light the fiber or partner with a third party to activate it. 
  • Enclave annexation
    Allowing cities and towns to close enclaves, also known as doughnut holes, in their municipal limits through annexation is a long-standing issue. Cities and towns have long advocated for closing enclaves that prevent consistent and efficient service delivery. 
  • Law enforcement reform
    Supporting reform measures to aspects of law enforcement training and practices will be important in 2021. Both the House and Senate are taking testimony from experts on changes to current law enforcement practices. 
  • Code enforcement
    Cities and towns struggle with paying for the remediation of dilapidated buildings and properties. Requiring code enforcement liens to be billed and collected, similar to property taxes, would allow cities and towns to maintain property standards more effectively. 
  • Abandoned buildings tax credit
    Extending the current abandoned buildings tax credit to 2022, which provides for additional local economic development incentives, will be valuable as the state’s economy recovers. Learn more about how the credit can help cities and towns in this Uptown article
  • Local Government Fund
    Because of the coronavirus, legislators did not pass a state budget for fiscal year 2020-2021. The continuing budget resolution they passed did not include any additional funding in the Local Government Fund. Calling for the LCF to be funded according to current law will be critical for the fiscal year 2022 budget. 
  • Firefighter Healthcare Benefit Plan
    The Municipal Association supports the inclusion of money in the state budget to fund the Firefighter Healthcare Benefit Plan. Legislators passed a bill in 2020 that would offer monetary benefits to firefighters with cancer. For the bill to take effect, lawmakers must appropriate money in the budget. 
  • PTSD funding
    For several years, the General Assembly has included $500,000 in the state budget for programs to support first responders who experience trauma. The Association will seek to ensure funds continue to be included. 
  • Zero millage
    Cities and towns with no property tax millage should be allowed to impose a millage with certain limitations. There are some cities and towns that do not impose an operating millage who now need to do so. The restrictions in Act 388 prevent them from adding this millage. 
  • Municipal Capital Projects Penny
    Creating a Municipal Capital Projects penny tax for municipal residents to approve for capital projects within the city limits is important for cities and towns within counties that do not have a capital projects tax. 
  • Expansion of naloxone
    The Municipal Association supports expanding the availability of naloxone, the medication, used to revive individuals suffering from drug overdoses, to fire and emergency medical services first responders.
  • Textiles Communities Revitalization Act
    The Textiles Communities Revitalization Act needs to be amended to include as one site those parts of abandoned mill properties that are separated by way of an intervening connector, such as a railroad or waterway. This Uptown article explains this tax credit and shows how it works in action. 
Keep up with legislative action 

As the legislative session begins, be sure to follow along with the ongoing updates in From the Dome to Your Home, a weekly legislative action recap email that features suggested action steps for cities and towns, as well as the City Quick Connect podcast. In early February, Hometown Legislative Action Week will bring a full week of virtual content from the Association’s advocacy team as well as state and federal legislators.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Get Ready to Advocate in the New Legislative Session

In January, lawmakers will return to Columbia to begin the first year of a two-year legislative session, debating and passing the laws that govern South Carolina. 

The South Carolina House of Representatives counts 124 members while the South Carolina Senate has 46. Between the two chambers, the 2020 election led to 21 new faces coming in for the new session. For both the old and new faces at the State House, local elected officials must keep open lines of communication to discuss the Association’s new Advocacy Initiatives and advance the best interests of their cities and towns. 

The Municipal Association has a handbook to help officials work with their legislative delegation — Raising Hometown Voices to a New Level of Influence. It explains the value of building an ongoing relationship with legislators well in advance of asking for anything, by keeping them involved in council meetings, ribbon cuttings and other special events. The guide addresses the basics of legislator communication:
  • Build grassroots support.
  • Don’t be a stranger.
  • Remember you serve the same people.
  • Know both sides of the issue.
  • Understand the legislative process.
  • Express your opinion.
  • Stay on message.
  • All politics is local.
  • Timing is everything. 
The guide also delves into the way local officials can keep their outreach personal and productive, such as in-person meetings and phone calls when possible, writing follow-up letters with specific requests, and always tracking down requested information. 

For those wanting to learn more about the workings of the General Assembly, the guide also explains the structure of the Senate and House of Representatives, including their standing committees. 

Stay informed in the new session 

The Municipal Association provides local leaders with several vital ways to know what’s going on and get involved with their legislators:
  • Hometown Legislative Action Week, taking place February 1 – 5, will replace the regularly scheduled Hometown Legislative Action Day with a full week of virtual content, with videos from the Association’s advocacy team as well as state and federal legislators. 
  • From the Dome to Your Home is a weekly recap email on Friday during the legislative session on all legislative activity that can impact municipalities, including suggested action steps. The website provides subscription signup and an archive of past issues. 
  • The City Quick Connect podcast also includes From the Dome to Your Home content with added discussion from the legislative team available every Monday during the legislative session. 
  • The online South Carolina Municipal Officials and Legislative Directory allows for searching for municipality by representative and senator, showing which municipalities are in the district of each legislator.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Business License Standardization Is Coming


The South Carolina General Assembly passed H4431 in September. The new Act 176, the SC Business License Tax Standardization Act, standardizes the business license tax process with a uniform due date, application, class schedule and online renewal portal. 

The new law also means that cities and towns that collect the tax will need to transition to a new way of administering the tax in 2021, since it goes into effect January 1, 2022. This will be an involved process with many steps, but statewide standardization will make the work of businesses operating in South Carolina’s cities and towns easier. Standardization will also help to maintain the tax’s stability as a municipal revenue source. 

The Municipal Association’s staff has already begun the work to help cities and towns make the transition, and they will be doing so throughout 2021. Officials should be on the lookout for presentations, articles in Uptown and episodes of the City Quick Connect podcast, among other sources of information. The guidance from the Association will include instructions on adjustments to local ordinances, rate schedules and more.

Here are a few basics of the business license standardization provisions in Act 176, with more information on the Municipal Association’s website
  • Standardizes due dates everywhere to be April 30, with a May 1 start to the license year 
  • Calculates the tax on gross income for either the calendar year or business' fiscal year 
  • Standardizes the definition of gross income 
  • Requires cities to accept a standard business license application 
  • Requires jurisdictions to adopt an updated, standardized class schedule every odd year 
  • Establishes an online business license renewal payment portal, hosted and managed by the SC Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office 
  • Creates a standard appeals process of business license assessments for all jurisdictions 
The Association is hosting virtual information sessions on standardization in general, and others focusing on the North American Industry Classification System codes. Sessions are coming up December 2, 3, 8 and 9. Find more information here, and register by contacting Caitlin Cothran at ccothran@masc.sc or Melissa Harrill at mharrill@masc.sc.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Getting Started With the Municipal Association’s New Listserves

The Municipal Association of SC launched new listserves this month, bringing expanded, user-friendly features allowing their users to connect with other professionals around the state. The listserves are available to members of the various affiliate associations, to planning and zoning officials, Main Street South Carolina members, city managers and administrators as well as public information officers. 

The new listserve platform offers several advantages over the former system. Users can find discussions gathered in a single, searchable location, when users once had to dig through old emails to locate a specific discussion. The platform also allows users to poll their colleagues, customizable notification preferences and share documents. This video explains more about what the system now offers. 


Members of affiliate associations automatically have access to their new listserves. Other listserves are available by requesting access, and some have restrictions on who can join them. Find out more about how to request access and set up a profile. 


The new system is a powerful tool. There are several steps users should take to make sure they’re using the listserves to their greatest effect. This video explains the first things to do when setting up a profile, including the critical issue of how users receive notifications about new discussions and activity — email, internet browser popup alerts and a notification page. Users can still engage in discussions directly through email, although this is no longer the best method. 


The listserve also has a helpline for those in need of assistance. For questions, call 803.933.1297.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

12 Cities and Towns Receive Hometown Economic Development Grants

The Municipal Association of South Carolina has awarded Hometown Economic Development Grants to 12 cities and towns. 

These grants, available in amounts of up to $25,000 each, aim to support those economic development projects that will make a positive impact on a municipality’s quality of life. The program also promotes and recognizes innovation in economic development practices. The Municipal Association board of directors created the program to fund those projects that will produce measurable results, can be maintained over time and illustrate best practices that can be replicated in other cities. 

After all submissions are made in September, an awards committee of former and current local government and state agency professionals evaluated the grant applications. 

Cities and towns receiving a grant must provide matching funds, with the amount based on their populations, submit reports about the progress and successes of each grant-funded project and provide financial details of how the grant funds were used. 

In recent years, the grants have spurred on valuable projects in many communities, such as the construction of an alleyway park where a blighted storefront had stood in Union, or the renovation of a historic Art Deco theater in Saluda


Work began in recent months on the The Depot alleyway project in downtown Union, seen here in a concept rendering. Photo: Alison South. 

As in past years, the projects from the 2020 cycle come from every part of the state. They represent cities and towns with populations ranging from 93 to 11,524. 

Here are the grant recipients and their projects: 

City of Belton – “Facade Mini-Grant Program” 
In an effort to improve the look of its downtown area and recruit new business, the City of Belton will provide matching grants of up to $2,500 for businesses to rehabilitate storefronts. 

Town of James Island – “James Island Arts and Cultural Center” 
With the loss of the library as an educational and social focal point for residents, the Town of James Island will repurpose its former library into an arts and cultural center. Grant funds will be leveraged with other funding to help renovate the interior of the building. 

Town of Lake View – “Lake View Strategic Plan” 
The need for a strategic plan for the Town of Lake View has become more important as the town acquires its most prominent natural asset, Page’s Mill Pond. Seeking to plan properly for the pond to become a destination, the town will use grant funds for the development of its future. 

Town of McClellanville – “Preserving McClellanville’s Working Waterfront: Phase II Implementation” 
Continuing the town’s efforts to preserve its working waterfront, the Town of McClellanville’s grant will fund efforts to build capacity and market the town’s seafood industry and culture. 

Town of McConnells – “Community Center Renovation” 
Built in the 1990s, the McConnells Community Center is a focal point of this rural, agricultural community. However, the center’s interior spaces were never completed. The town will use its grant to renovate the center’s interior, which will allow for more use in the future. 

Town of Pageland – “Downtown Farmers Market” 
Building on investments the town has made to improve its downtown and attract visitors, the Town of Pageland and its local partners will use grant funds to establish a downtown farmers market. Planned to be located next to the town’s green space, the market will host educational and entertainment events as well. 

Town of Patrick – “Revitalize Downtown Landscaping” 
Seeking to improve the aesthetics of its downtown and attract business, the Town of Patrick will use several partners to revitalize and renovate public landscaping along the lengths of its main roads. 

Town of Pinewood – “Rehabilitation of Historic 1889 Depot” 
Seeking to preserve and make use of the last train depot in Sumter County, the Town of Pinewood will rehabilitate the interior of its historic structure for use as an event center and museum. 

Town of Salley – “Destination Downtown Septic Study” 
The Town of Salley has lost out on opportunities for downtown growth because of a lack of adequate wastewater disposal options. The town will use its grant to conduct an engineering study in support of applications for funding construction of a wastewater system to serve downtown businesses. 

Town of Springfield – “Seeing Springfield” 
Inadequate lighting downtown and along the town’s walking trail is an obstacle to attracting visitors after dark. In partnership with Dominion Energy, the Town of Springfield will use grant funds to convert existing street lights and install new ones with energy-efficient LED fixtures. 

Town of Troy – “Town Hall Polling Place Modernization” 
After years of the Town of Troy’s town hall being used as a polling place, it was deemed unsuitable due to its lack of Americans with Disabilities Act compliance. The town will use grant funds to make its town hall ADA-compliant to restore it as a polling place for all residents. 

City of Woodruff – “Block 224, A Downtown Multi-purpose Space” 
The City of Woodruff will use its grant to transform a dilapidated downtown building from an eyesore into a shining public space that connects downtown businesses with off-street parking. The space will have a modern vibe and be used for public and private events, outdoor dining and relaxation. 

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Plan for the Risks With Festivals and Holiday Events

Many special events have gone on hiatus as a result of the pandemic. Planners delayed and canceled events even before Gov. McMaster’s executive orders addressed occupancy limitations for public gatherings. Several guidance documents have come about to help planners determine the questions to ask when moving ahead with an event, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Readiness and Planning Tool


Planning and preparation for special events is still happening. The governor’s executive order from October 2 requires that those planning events for more than 250 guests must request approval for the event from the SC Department of Commerce, and demonstrate that they will comply with federal and state safety procedures. 

Cities and towns will also need to consider the risks beyond the pandemic for the events they host. For events like festivals, parades or Christmas tree lightings, risk coordinators and other key municipal staff should form a special events committee and start special events planning far in advance. 

Stakeholders such as police, fire and public works should meet to determine the types of special events that occur within the city, identify risks, develop effective controls, and assess the potential impact on the city, residents and local businesses. City officials should also consider designating one staff member to serve as a coordinator of all special event activities and oversee the special events committee. 

When planning events, cities need to answer several questions to determine how best to protect both residents and city assets. First, what could go wrong at the event? What preventive measures can be taken against these negative outcomes? If something does go wrong, how will the city or town pay for it? Drafting a special events policy and having it reviewed by the city attorney is a key way to manage the risk that special events can create. 

Most liability insurance policies have exclusions that can affect special events, and municipal officials should be familiar with the exclusions stipulated in their policies. 

Activities commonly excluded by liability coverage 
  • Communicable diseases, including the coronavirus 
  • Bungee jumping and similar amusement devices
  • Fireworks displays
  • Skateboarding
  • Parachuting and hang gliding
  • Airplane, helicopter or ballooning rides and shows 
  • Archery
  • Mechanical amusement devices 
  • Zoos 
  • Traveling carnivals and circuses 
  • Rodeos

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Virtual Sessions Keep the Training Going

The interruption of in-person meetings in 2020 as a pandemic precaution has not stopped online training opportunities from the Municipal Association. 

The Municipal Elected Officials Institute of Government, for example, replaced in-person sessions for the fall with online courses in October, but it has also maintained a variety of online, on-demand training sessions. The on-demand courses address such topics as budgeting and municipal finance, forms of municipal government, the SC Freedom of Information Act, municipal economic development as well as municipal governance and policy. The MEO Institute will host a virtual Advanced Continuing Education session on October 13, as well as a virtual session on Advanced Municipal Economic Development on October 14. 

In the spring, the Association launched the “Online Orientation Training for Planning and Zoning Officials.” That six-hour course, available to elected officials as well as relevant staff at no charge, covers a state training requirement for all officials working in that area. 
In the fall, Risk Management Services began to host online training sessions. It launched “Workers’ Compensation Nuts and Bolts” for members of the SC Municipal Insurance Trust and SC Municipal Insurance and Risk Financing Fund. This fall, it will host several virtual trainings for SCMIT and SCMIRF members: 
Many of the Municipal Association’s affiliate associations are also creating online versions of their scheduled annual meetings and quarterly meetings. Find the list of all of them on the Association’s Training Calendar.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Preparing and Executing Effective Virtual Meetings

Some city and town councils have moved their meetings to virtual formats because of the pandemic. Some boards, commissions and committees have also changed their meetings into virtual events. Virtual meetings create difficulties for conducting meetings — speakers muting and unmuting themselves, or participants trying to avoid talking over one another. 

These challenges can make the planning and preparation that go into meetings all the more important. The Municipal Association has a handbook, How to Conduct Effective Meetings, which can help with many of the aspects of preparing for and participating in meetings. 

For example, the handbook includes the importance of a council adopting rules of procedures, which is required by state law in SC Code Section 5-7-250(b). Using Roberts’s Rules of Order provides one way to satisfy the requirement. Even so, Robert’s Rules are not designed for a city or town council, so using them exclusively can create difficulties. The handbook contains a set of sample rules of order that councils can modify for local needs and then adopt. 

Another critical consideration is the process of establishing an agenda and publicly distributing it. The SC Freedom of Information Act requires public notification of meetings, with agendas, 24 hours in advance for all meetings where there will be a quorum of council, whether the meeting is in person or virtual. Once the agenda and agenda packet are complete, every councilmember needs to receive the agenda packet at relatively the same time well in advance of the meeting — for example, the weekend before the meeting. This allows councilmembers the critical time they need to familiarize themselves with material and ask staff questions as needed. 

The presiding officer's role in a council meeting, ordinarily the mayor, is critical to the process. The presiding officer needs to be familiar with the rules of order adopted by the city or town and work to facilitate the meeting both firmly and courteously. The person in this role should help make sure that only one councilmember speaks at a time, and that every voice on council is allowed to speak. The presiding officer should also ensure that residents who wish to make comments do so only at designated times. Presiding over meetings is one of the topics covered in the How to Conduct Effective Meetings handbook

More information 

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Downtown Programs Rise to the Challenge

By Jenny Boulware, Main Street SC Manager 

Experts have told us that we should continue to plan for frequent interruptions and modifications to business operations from the pandemic. Is your leadership and economic development team ready to help ensure a healthy community as we enter the fall and winter season? The time is now to make changes to adapt and ensure that South Carolina’s local economies remain resilient.

For innovative, adaptive ideas, we are highlighting two of Main Street South Carolina’s communities: Main Street Hartsville and See Lancaster. Each has creatively assisted their small businesses with real solutions to stressed economies. 

By tapping into public and private support, the Hartsville community developed a micro-loan program known as the All-America City Comeback Campaign that assisted 38 businesses and provided more than $150,000 in direct assistance. 

Lancaster used a gift card program to infuse more than $50,000 into its downtown businesses. All 170 city employees were given a $300 gift card redeemable at local businesses that opted to participate. This program was so impactful that it will return during the holiday season in the form of $100 gift cards for all city employees. 

In the past several months, event cancellations have been a constant, but we have also seen new ways of hosting events. One resourceful modification to meet social distancing measures is drive-in movie nights. This public gathering variation got a positive reception from Lancaster residents. Additionally, local event sponsors have allowed cancelled event monies to be used for new programming as seen in Hartsville with their just-launched discounted gift certificate. 

When canceling or modifying planned activities, constant communication is a must. In fact, with limited community interactions at the moment, communicating positive messages is important. Hartsville and Lancaster have seen increased engagement on social media posts (See some of Hartsville’s efforts here and Lancaster’s here) that celebrate building renovations, business expansions and public projects. Increased awareness of these positive activities cultivate excitement and hope for the future. 

We talked about these practical solutions with the leaders of these two programs — Suzy Moyd in Hartsville and Joe Timmons in Lancaster — in a recent episode of the City Quick Connect podcast. These are two fantastic program directors and they’re doing amazing work in their communities.