Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Keep Special Events Special

Special events season is in full swing as communities highlight local attractions with parades, festivals, concerts and sports activities. While special events offer fun and an opportunity for the community to come together, they also create liability exposures that are often overlooked. 

Even if a municipality is not directly involved in staging the event, it may have liability exposure when public services, resources or property are used.

Local officials can minimize the risks by adopting a special events policy outlining what activities are allowed and whether the governmental entity’s name can be used in promotions, what coverage and limits of insurance are required and type of services that can be provided by the municipality or the outside entity.

The city should also institute an application or permit process to help regulate and properly manage events sponsored by outside parties. Outside entities should complete a comprehensive special events application to ensure the event is safe and successful while having minimal impact on the city. The applicant should specify any service, material or property that he expects the municipality to provide

A staff member (or committee) should coordinate the pre-event planning process and help departments identify risks, develop effective controls for managing the events and determine the event’s impact on the municipality, residents and local businesses.

For each event, officials need to decide if the city will be a sponsor or cosponsor or not participate at all. If the municipality will sponsor or participate in the event, local officials should check the city’s insurance coverage for the level of coverage provided and activities that may be excluded from coverage. 

Insurance coverage
The city should require third parties, contractors and vendors to provide a certificate of insurance, name the city as an additional insured and sign a hold harmless and indemnity agreement to minimize the city’s risk.

The city should get the certificate directly from the insurance agent and ask him to list the date and location of the event and the service the vendor is contracted to provide. 

Most public entities have liability coverage without a general exclusion for special events. Unless a particular activity is excluded, liability coverage will apply.

For more information about common insurance exclusions, waivers, alcohol and food sales, medical coverage, security and volunteers, read the article in the June Uptown or attend the “Keep a Special Event ‘Special’ by Avoiding Liability” session during the Association’s Annual Meeting on Thursday, July 10, at 1:30 p.m.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Changes to National Flood Insurance Program Affect More Than Coastal Cities

Even if your city isn't on the coast, you still may have reason to be concerned about recent changes in the National Flood Insurance Program. There is growing concern among municipalities that property values, along with historic preservation and infill projects, could be negatively impacted after Congress made changes this year to its federal flood insurance program in an effort to keep the program afloat.

The federal government has offered flood insurance to property owners since the late 1960s through the National Flood Insurance Program. The program, which currently has 5.6 million policies in place, was created to provide flood insurance to places not covered by private insurance because of elevated risks.

While the program largely seeks to keep new construction dry during floods, it also made policies available at discounted rates for structures built in flood hazard zones before 1975, when the rules were different and fewer flood maps were available. The program provided subsidized rates for these high-risk areas to avoid pricing the owners out of their properties.

The program began struggling financially following the catastrophic losses from Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. In 2012, Congress passed the Biggert-Waters FloodInsurance Reform Act in an attempt to restore solvency to the program. The act made changes to all major components of the program, including flood insurance, flood hazard mapping, grants, and floodplain management. The changes increased rates to ensure that flood insurance rates more accurately reflected the real risk of flooding.

After scores of property owners complained of skyrocketing rates that threatened the loss of their homes, Congress passed additional reforms. In March, President Obama signed into law the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2014. This law repeals and modifies certain provisions of Biggert-Waters. 

Lisa Jones, owner of Carolina Flood Solutions LLC and an expert on Biggert-Waters, will present a session on this topic at the Annual Meeting in Charleston on Friday, July 11. It's a session that will be of interest to any city that has property, particularly historic or infill property, in flood-prone areas.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Supreme Court Rules on Amending Meeting Agendas

Two years after the state Court of Appeals ruled on the case of Lambries vs. Saluda County related to amending public body meeting agendas, the South Carolina Supreme Court today overturned the lower court’s decision.

The Supreme Court ruling concluded “FOIA’s notice statue does not require an agenda to be issued for a regularly scheduled meeting, and FOIA contains no prohibition on the amendment of an agenda for a regularly scheduled meeting…”

"We agree with the ruling of the Supreme Court based on state law; however, we believe the best practice for cities is to have an agenda for all meetings posted a minimum of 24 hours in advance of the meeting," said
Miriam Hair, the Municipal Association’s executive director. "This practice helps councils efficiently and effectively handle the public’s business. 

"Public notice of the agenda is also an effective way to keep the public informed as to what the council will discuss at its next meeting. However, we acknowledge that there may be unusual circumstances when a council may need to amend an agenda at the time of the meeting to address a critical and unanticipated situation.”

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Flag Day is Saturday - do you know the rules of flag-flying?

This Saturday is Flag Day. It's the anniversary of the official adoption of the Stars and Stripes as America’s flag. Do you know the protocol for properly displaying Old Glory? For more information about flag protocol, read the June Uptown article.

Is there a law dictating flag protocol?

For nearly 50 years after Congress authorized the U.S. flag design, there was no uniform set of rules for displaying and showing respect for the flag. To develop a guide, a National Flag Conference was held in Washington, DC, on Flag Day, June 14, 1923. Congress adopted it in 1942 making the flag code law. Congress amended the resolution in 1976 and enacted it as Public Law 94-344, commonly called the Flag Code.

According to the Code, “The flag should be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously. The flag should be displayed daily, weather permitting, on or near the main administration building of every public institution. The flag should be displayed in or near every polling place on election days.”

Can you fly the flag at night?
While it is customary to display the flag only from sunrise to sunset on buildings and on stationary flagstaffs in the open, the flag may be displayed 24 hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness. According to a 2009 report from Congressional Research Service, “It would seem that display of the flag in a respectful manner with appropriate lighting does not violate the spirit of the Flag Code since the dignity accorded to the flag is preserved by lighting that prevents its being enveloped in darkness.”

What does half-staff mean?

The term “half-staff” means the position of the flag when it is one-half the distance between the top and bottom of the staff. When flown at half-staff, hoist the flag to the peak for an instant then lower it to the half-staff position.

Likewise, raise the flag to the peak for an instant before lowering it for the day. On Memorial Day, fly the flag at half-staff until noon then raise it for the remainder of the day.

Who can order the flag to be flown at half-staff?

Only the president, governor and mayor of the District of Columbia can call for the flag to be flown at half-staff.

Does state law have provisions about flying the flag at half-staff beyond what the federal government requires?

According to SC Code 1-3-470, the governor will order flags on state buildings flown at half-staff on the day of burial or other service as a tribute for any firefighter or law enforcement officer who died in the line of duty. He will request flags over the buildings of all political subdivisions to do the same. Additionally, flags on top of the State Capitol must be lowered to half-staff on the day when funeral services are conducted for members of the United States military services who were residents of South Carolina and who lost their lives in the line of duty while in combat.

Also flags atop state and local public buildings must be flown at half-staff until at least noon on POW/MIA Recognition Day (the third Friday in September) according to Section 53-3-165 of the SC Code of Laws.

The state Budget and Control Board provides email notification of half-staff observances. Subscribe here.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Give us a piece of your mind

By Reba Hull Campbell, Municipal Association Deputy Director
Do you get frustrated when you get an email, publication or  letter that wastes your time? It's too long. It takes too long to download. It's overloaded with silly graphics. It's from a source you know never can get to the point.

Research shows people increasingly want information in short digestible bites. The Municipal Association, like every organization charged with sharing information, doesn't want to waste your time sending you stuff you won't read or use.

So we need your help. We need to know what information you want from us and in what format.

Give us a piece of your mind and let us know what the Association can do to better get you the information you need in the format that works best for you.

Just take five minutes and complete our online communication survey (or you can mail or fax us the hard copy you received in the June Uptown this week). That's it. We'll figure it out from there.

And while you are thinking about getting information from us, make sure you read our latest missive - today's From the Dome to Your Home - to get the final results of the state budget debate, new texting ban and items left hanging when the session ended yesterday.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

New standards on the horizon for reporting post-employment benefits

State and local governments are required to follow accounting practices set forth by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board. GASB is recognized by governments, the accounting industry and capital markets as the official source of Generally Accepted Accounting Principles for government entities. 

Periodically, GASB issues new standards intended to make government financial reporting more accountable. Typically, GASB issues exposure drafts leading up to the final approval of new standards to give users the opportunity to comment on the effects of the proposed standards. 

Last week, GASB approved two new exposure drafts related to the financial reporting for other post-employmentbenefits known as OPEB. The concepts in the exposure drafts for OPEB are similar to the GASB 67 standards for pensions that were issued earlier this year

These two exposure drafts require governmental entities to report on their financial statements an OPEB liability that previously was only disclosed in the footnotes. The promise to pay these benefits often represents a significant future obligation that will potentially have a major impact on governmental financial statements.

The employer-related exposure draft recommends the OPEB liability be reported one of two ways. 

One would apply to entities that provide an OPEB plan administered through a trust such as the South Carolina Other Retirement Benefits Employer Trust. Members of the trust will report the liability net of their accumulated earnings within the trust.

The other would apply to entities that do not participate in such a trust.
They would report the total OPEB liability on their financial statements. The drafts will also include new methods to calculate the liability and annual OPEB expense.

GASB is expected to post these exposure drafts on its website in mid-June and will host public hearings in September. In the meantime, GASB has released a helpful  Q&A resource. 

If you find some of the language and terminology used by GASB confusing, you can find a series of "plain language" documents explaining many of the terms here.

For more information on SCORBET and OPEB contact the Association’s Heather Ricard or Hayes Holland.