Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Lots of economic impact in 2.5 minutes next week

There will be lots of economic impact packed into a few minutes next Monday when much of South Carolina experiences the once-in-a-lifetime eclipse.

With spectators coming from around the world, some 140 South Carolina cities and towns are positioned to offer a memorable weekend followed by an awe-inspiring few minutes. Get a list of what some South Carolina cities have planned and read this Columbia Business Monthly article to find out what several small towns are doing.

In preparation for the approximately 2 ½-minute event, the Municipal Association’s Risk Management Services staff has offered a number of safety tips cities should consider when hosting large crowds.

If the city is sponsoring a free public viewing event, make sure there is some shade and cool beverages. Consider hiring a vendor to manage or support parking, traffic and sanitation efforts. Coordinate with public safety officials and logistics organizers. Security should be heightened, considering the recent attacks seen around the world. Minimize outdoor construction and maintenance activities on the day of the eclipse, since the event is expected to attract additional onlookers and travelers on the city's roads and properties.

Individuals planning to watch the eclipse should be careful. Looking directly at the sun with the naked eye or through an optical aid can be extremely dangerous, and there is only a brief phase, "totality," when the moon completely blocks the sun during which onlookers can remove their glasses.

Take the following steps:

  • Check for local information on the timing of when the total eclipse will begin and end. NASA's page of eclipse times is a good place to start.
  • Don't stare at the sun. It's too bright for the eye.
  • Research and purchase special-purpose solar filters, "eclipse glasses" or hand-held solar viewers. Make sure the glasses are certified. Some have been recalled as unsafe.
  • Smoked glass, X-ray films, sunglasses and camera filters, for example, are all dangerous and should be avoided completely for viewing.

Despite the warnings, there are plenty of ways to safely enjoy the eclipse. For detailed information on the path of the eclipse, maps, merchandise and more, visit this webpage.

SC Educational Television and Public Radio will be covering the eclipse live on television, radio and live streaming. Get links to previous stories looking at the safety of glasses, emergency preparedness, traffic, photography during the eclipse and more.


Friday, August 11, 2017

'Tis the season ... to start planning for the 2018 session

By Casey Fields, manager for municipal advocacy

It’s August - time for the once in a lifetime solar eclipse and time for the Municipal Association’s annual Regional Advocacy Meetings. Don’t miss either this year. You don’t need protective eyewear for our meetings, though.

Jump in the car with your fellow local officials and hit the road for an advocacy meeting near you. We’ve scheduled them so no one should be more than a 90 minute drive from one of the meetings.

We will share a good meal, some fellowship and talk politics. I loved seeing everyone at Annual Meeting. Regional Advocacy Meetings are just another opportunity for us to gather and keep up the momentum after such a great meeting in Hilton Head.

The Regional Advocacy Meetings start on Tuesday, August 15, in Myrtle Beach at the Historic Train Depot. If you haven’t already registered, do it now. The discussion and information are important, but we also serve up a good meal of local fare. We always try to use city facilities and local caterers to show off the city where we are meeting.

We will open up the meetings by looking ahead to big issues for the 2018 legislative session. Our staff will update on you on the progress with business licensing legislation, and we will talk with you about what’s on your mind about issues in your city or town. 

Advocacy staff will also go over important bills that passed during 2017 such as changes to FOIA, municipal elections and the state pension system.

This is not a lecture-style meeting. It’s a discussion among us, you and each other. Designed to be fast-paced but thorough enough to walk away with some good information, the meetings help us plan next steps for the months leading up to the new session in January.

I know you are busy. I know you have a lot of other responsibilities including running your city and protecting your residents. But this time together is important.

Register now for a Regional Advocacy Meeting. Don’t miss the opportunity to tell us what’s on your mind and hear what new laws are in place. I can’t wait to see your smiling faces! Never too soon to start planning our strategy to advocate for strong cities and towns in our General Assembly.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

A $13,000 Lesson

By Tiger Wells, Government Affairs Liaison

The meetings of public bodies must be open to the public. This is a central and typically uncontroversial tenant of the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act

As is usually the case with general rules, however, there are exceptions.

For any of six reasons outlined in the Freedom of Information Act, a public body may go into a closed session. Five of these apply to municipal government. Before entering executive session, the public body’s presiding officer must announce the specific purpose of the executive session according to the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

Two years ago, the South Carolina Supreme Court made it clear that the words “proposed contractual matter,” for example, do not satisfy the specific purpose requirement. In Donohue v. City of North Augusta, the North Augusta city council was found to have violated FOIA when it invoked Section 30-4-70(a)(2) of the S.C. Code of Laws and stated that it was going into executive session to discuss a “contractual matter.” 

Now, just two years following that opinion, another public body has been admonished by a lower court for a similar violation. In a recently issued order out of the Newberry County Court of Common Pleas, Newberry County Council was found to have violated FOIA by holding closed meetings without sufficiently announcing the meetings’ specific purpose. 

According to the court’s order, meeting minutes from one of these public meeting indicate that the announced purpose of the closed session was “the receipt of legal advice where the legal advice relates to a pending, threatened, or potential claim or other matters covered by the attorney-client privilege.”

Noting first that this description amounts to a partial reciting of the exact language of Section 30-4-70(a)(2), the court concluded reciting the applicable code section “in such a general way” constituted hiding the specific topic of the executive session. As a result, the public body was found to have denied the public its right to know what was being discussed, and ordered to pay $13,708.63 in fees and costs.

Through the Donohue case, the S.C. Supreme Court pointed to an example of how not to go into executive session, but stopped short of articulating precisely what form the statement of specific purpose should have taken. If this most recent case advances at least to the state Court of Appeals, it will be interesting to see if South Carolina’s appellate courts seize this opportunity to give more concrete guidance.


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Palmetto Pride "talked trash" at the Annual Meeting

For some of us, tossing a McDonalds bag out a car window would seem strange and out of character.

If only everyone felt that way. 

On Friday at the Annual Meeting, Esther Wagner, special events program manager for PalmettoPride, laid out ways that cities and towns could control and prevent litter during a session that drew dozens of municipal officials.

Here are a few:

•    Mini grants — PalmettoPride is offering a mini grant for South Carolina municipalities to purchase trash receptacles for downtown areas or parks. Municipalities must demonstrate an active litter reduction program including, but not limited, to enforcement, regular emptying of trash cans, and routine maintenance and cleaning of area in need.
•    Awareness — The city website should feature disposal information and anti-littering messages. “You should be very clear about where things are to be dumped, which dumps will take mattresses, which ones will take e-waste. Have that easily accessible for your people,” Wagner said. “People are going to landfills and are being turned away and dumping stuff on their way back."
•    Ordinances —  “You can’t enforce litter laws if you don’t have litter laws,” said Wagner. PalmettoPride can provide a sample ordinance. “Make sure that your officers are well trained, so they know what to do for a litter stop and how to make a litter ticket stick,” she said.
•    Judicial support — “We get a lot of reports that the judiciary and prosecutors don’t support their tickets,” said Wagner. “If you have that issue, come to us, and we will see what we can to do help you train those people on why it’s important.
•    Hotline  — PalmettoPride sponsors a statewide Litter Busters Hotline, thanks to the cooperation of the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Public Safety. Call 877-7LITTER (754-8837) to report the location, time and the litterbug’s license number. S.C. DPS will send the offender a letter, noting littering isn't tolerated in South Carolina, and fines or jail time could result.
•    Tree grants — Wagner said PalmettoPride gets seedlings for pennies on the dollar. State inmates nurture the seedlings for two or three years until they’re old enough to adopt out for beautification. Inmates have gotten jobs in landscaping companies after this experience.

•    Parolees — A judge assigns a specific road to be cleaned up as part of an individual’s parole. A city employee can drive by and make sure the road’s been cleaned up. "If it’s not, let the judge know."

Friday, July 21, 2017

Annual Meeting opening session brings insight, elections and a couple of surprises

Walterboro Mayor Bill Young, president
Municipal Association of SC
New officers, graduates of the Municipal Association’s Municipal Elected Officials Institute, an inspiring keynote address and recognition of a state legislator headlined the opening session of the 2017 Annual Meeting.

Keynote address focused on cities finding their niche
The keynote speaker, Ed McMahon, with the Urban Land Institute in Washington, D.C. had lots to tell attendees of the Annual Meeting. The gist: How cities and towns can make themselves competitive by accentuating their uniqueness instead of imitating other thriving places.

“Most Americans care more about the place they live than the political party they belong to,” he told a ballroom full of municipal officials.

These were among McMahon’s points:
•    Don’t compete with other cities in a race to the bottom by giving away tax incentives to big business.
•    “It’s not about what you don’t have,” he said. “It’s about what you do have.” Quality of life is critically important to economic wellbeing. Don’t join an “arms race” that only a few cities will win. For example, resist the urge to try to build the flashiest convention center, the biggest festival market place, or some other trendy attraction, such as an aquarium.
•    Green spaces aren't just a nice “extra.” Treat parks and green spaces like the sources of vitality that they are. Green spaces add value to property.
•    Preserving what is special about community is very good for business. McMahon pointed to a company called Brandywine Investment Fund. Its founder moved from Philadelphia to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, because of the outdoor recreation opportunities in Wyoming.
•    It’s good to be discerning when it comes to deciding what businesses you want in your city.  Don’t be afraid to say no. “If you’re afraid to say no to anything, you’ll get the worst of everything,” said McMahon. “… Communities that set high standards compete for the top.”
•    Mixed-use developments are the way to go. That means apartments, offices, swimming pools, small businesses, and any number of other establishments have a place on top of, for example, a downtown Walmart or Best Buy. McMahon cited the City of Fayetteville’s data from 2011 that showed a mixed-use Waffle House outperformed a “strip,” standalone Waffle House by 15 percent. 

Highlights of Ed McMahon's presentation

Cayce Mayor Elise Partin
Elections, recognitions and awards
New Municipal Association officers for 2017-18 are Cayce Mayor Elise Partin, president; Florence Councilmember Octavia Williams-Blake, first vice president; Isle of Palms Mayor Dick Cronin, second vice president; and Mauldin Mayor Dennis Raines, third vice-president.

Williston Mayor Jason Stapleton, Johnston Mayor Terence Culbreth, Clemson Mayor J.C. Cook, Hollywood Mayor Jackie Heyward, Lexington Mayor Steve MacDougall and Chester Councilmember Amy Brown are the newly elected board members.

Rep. Joe Daning
Representative Joe Daning (R-Goose Creek) received the Distinguished Service Award. This is an award that is not presented each year but only when someone outside of municipal government has truly exhibited the service that this award was intended to honor.  

Association President Bill Young, mayor of Walterboro, said “Rep. Daning has been a consistent and reliable ally to South Carolina municipalities, He’s stepped up repeatedly and spoken out in defense of preserving home rule and local authority.”

Two surprise recognitions rounded out the opening session when Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols received the Farlow Award for outstanding service to municipal government, and Miriam Hair was awarded the Order of the Palmetto in recognition of her retirement later this year.

Mayor Doug Echols
Mayor Young noted Mayor Echols’ many years of service to the City of Rock Hill and to the Municipal Association. “The real feather in his cap is happening next week  with Rock Hill hosting the BMX World Championships,” Mayor Young said. “This event will bring more than 3,300 riders from over 40 countries and an estimated 20,000 spectators to Rock Hill.”

Senator Floyd Nicholson (D-Greenwood) made a surprise appearance to present Miriam Hair with the Order of the Palmetto, the state’s highest civilian honor. 
Following a video highlighting Miriam’s 32-year career at the Association, Mayor Young brought Senator Nicholson to the stage saying, “In the video, we saw Miriam’s letters for outstanding work in high school athletics. If it was possible to letter in municipal government, there wouldn’t be enough room on one jacket to recognize Miriam’s accomplishments at the Municipal Association. 

In the absence of that, we’ve done the next best thing…and brought her former high school coach to join us today for a special presentation. Before we all knew him as Mayor Nicholson or Senator Nicholson, Miriam and her family knew him as Coach."

Sen. Nicholson was Miriam’s high school basketball coach and later worked with her when he was Greenwood’s mayor and president of the Association’s board. Today he is the state senator representing Miriam’s hometown of Greenwood.


Annual Meeting Day 1: Get a peek at the mobile workshop with the Town of Hilton Head Island

More than 100 municipal officials learned that Hilton Head Island's redevelopment efforts have a lot in common with their own. In particular? The forces that drive redevelopment can be found everywhere.

They include: Aging infrastructure. Millennials. Changing lifestyles. The economic downturn. Growth. Aging buildings with lagging maintenance.

Hilton Head Island’s Mall at Shelter Cove was built in the 1980s. Today the Shelter Cove Towne Center is the result of re-envisioned development. But it took careful planning and design guidelines to get there.

An aerial photo of the old mall showed that Broad Creek, which is next to the property, wasn’t used to its full potential. 

“It turned its back on this beautiful view,” said Jennifer Ray, Hilton Head Island’s planning and special projects manager, during a breakfast at a restaurant in the development held before a bus tour of the town’s redevelopment successes. The tour was part of the Municipal Association’s Annual Meeting.

“The mall started failing,” said Ray of the old Shelter Cove shopping center. In the 2000s, this mall, just like many indoor shopping centers, faced competition as online retail increased and as the economy started to downturn.

The owners asked the town for a development agreement to spur activity, but the plans never came to fruition. A few years later, an Augusta, Georgia-based developer got involved. Instead of a strip mall design, the developer created a village atmosphere.

“The shops have a different flavor as you walk along. There are public spaces next to the route to encourage you stop and linger,” Ray said. And in the back by the creek, there is a public park.

“It would have been the loading dock in the back of the grocery store had the developer not been willing to say, ‘That jewel out there that Hilton Head Island prizes is valuable to our tenant as well.’”

“We have an extensive design review board and design guidelines,” said Ray. "Island character is a concept this island was founded on when Charles Fraser started development here. We take that very seriously and have a high quality, sustainable product that will be beautiful and last for years. It also blends into nature, which is another one of our assets that people come here for.”

Creating the new Shelter Cove Town Center took creativity and care to get the aesthetics just right. One way to do this was to add patches of public spaces, including benches and gathering areas, to the development.

Landscaping, pedestrian-level lighting also helped. Rethinking the power lines was yet another way.

“The town helped negotiate with Santee Cooper to move the power line,” Ray said, so that it runs through the parking lot. “That’s not the area that you want to focus on. You park your car, and you get out and you move on.”

Lower-storied buildings were placed closer to where automobiles are moving. Farther back on the site features larger buildings. Coordinating bricks and building materials helps create a cohesive project.

“You never feel like you’re right in front a large mass of large grocery or big-box store," said Ray.

Thursday’s redevelopment tour showed more than 100 municipal officials other highlights, including acreage of the future University of South Carolina Beaufort site on Office Park Road, the Sonesta Resort, which suffered damage from Hurricane Matthew and had to undergo repairs, and other hotel redevelopment projects and gated communities.

Friday, July 14, 2017

New FOIA Handbook now available

Now that changes to the state’s Freedom of Information Act have taken effect, the S.C.Press Association has updated its FOIA handbook

The Municipal Association shares this handbook on its website as a resource for local officials. The updated version is now available online, and copies will be available to officials attending the upcoming Annual Meeting.

Legislators introduced the bill with the intention of making public bodies more responsive to records requests. The bill gives the public faster access to an official ruling when a public body either rejects or otherwise fails to satisfy a FOIA request. The bill also establishes time frames for the public bodies receiving those requests. Get details in this earlier blog post. 

In May, the Association held a series of conference calls to outline the changes to FOIA. Two questions came up during the calls that prompted Association staff to do further research.

The first question focused on how to deal with FOIA requests for materials submitted to councilmembers from the public during a meeting. The second related to requests for records that include personal identifying information. Get details in this earlier blog post. 

This recent article in GSA BizWire also gives an overview of the changes.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Countdown to the 2017 Annual Meeting

The 2017 Annual Meeting is just a week away, and it’s time to start thinking about how to get the most of out of your time at Hilton Head.

Read on for a sneak peek at a number of sessions that have been featured in recent Uptown stories.

Learning from other cities’ successes is a big part of the Annual Meeting. Greer Mayor Rick Danner shares his city’s story of working across jurisdictional lines to ensure success of several city projects. And Palmetto Pride shares how cities are working to put litter prevention strategies in place.

Crises come in all shapes and sizes. Hear from three city leaders who weathered recent storm incidents and find out some creative solutions to common problems they faced.

Law enforcement agencies are finding training through a simulator gives officers hands-on experience with situations encountered every day. Meeting attendees can attend a breakout session to learn about this training then give the simulator a first-person try

It’s not too early to start planning for the 2020 Census. Find out what cities need to be doing now to get ready.

Just because South Carolina hasn’t legalized medical marijuana doesn’t mean its use can’t be an issue for employers. A labor attorney will discuss this and other pressing HR issues.

Fifteen-minute tech talks on Thursday and Saturday give officials the chance to glance at trends and what’s new in technology for local governments.

Want the meeting in the palm of your hand? Download the meeting app before you leave home and get your schedule organized before you arrive at Hilton Head. 

New this year will be satellite parking at a church near the Palmetto Dunes entrance on the William Hilton Parkway for guests at the Sonesta, Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn Express. All the details on the website and the app

Finally, the 2017 Communications Survey will be available for everyone to complete at the Annual Meeting. Or get a jump on things and take the survey online now to tell us how you like to get information from the Association.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

S.C. cities in the international spotlight twice this summer

South Carolina cities and towns will be drawing international attention twice this summer with the international BMX cycling championship coming to Rock Hill in late July and the "once-in-99-years eclipse" passing over more than 140 cities and towns on August 21. 

International cycling championship in Rock Hill

First, the week of July 25 – 29, the City of Rock Hill is hosting the UCI BMX World Cycling Championship. The event is just shy of the Olympics in terms of prestige and prominence in the cycling world. Organizers anticipate more than 20,000 spectators will be in Rock Hill to watch 3,300 riders from more than 40 countries.

This BMX event is anticipated to be the largest international sporting event in South Carolina history, according to Rock Hill officials.

Rock Hill was selected to host this event in 2014, two months before the track, modeled after the 2008 Beijing Olympic track, even opened. The last time the BMX world cycling championship was held in the U.S. was 2001 when Louisville, KY hosted it. The last two championships took place in Zolder, Belgium, and Medellin, Colombia.

Rock Hill has invested heavily in sports tourism in the past decade, and the results are showing. The Rock Hill Parks Recreation and Tourism Department estimates that sports tourism has had a $157.3 million direct economic impact on the city since 2006.

In recent years, Rock Hill’s reputation as a competitive cycling center has skyrocketed with the opening of the Giordana Velodrome (track cycling) in 2012, and the Novant Health BMX Supercross Track in 2014. Rock Hill’s cycling focus also extends to Cyclocross trails, a mountain bike course and Criterium course.

The City of Rock Hill recently held a media day “race event” for local reporters to experience the thrill of the BMX track personally. Read here about one of the participant’s race down the starting ramp that stands two stories tall and drops 40 feet down before looping about 1200 feet around the track of intensely rolling hills.

S.C. cities uniquely positioned for eclipse

Then, on August 21, more than 140 South Carolina cities and towns will fall into the swath of the first total solar eclipse in North America in 99 years. There’s a lot of economic impact packed into those two minutes and 41 seconds.

While Columbia is the largest South Carolina city to experience the “full totality” of the eclipse, many smaller towns in the “path of totality" are using the once-in-a-lifetime event to showcase their distinctive appeal.

As early as last August, officials in Newberry began thinking about their eclipse plans. A photographer from New York called to say Newberry’s location in the swath of the eclipse would provide him with the shot of a lifetime, and that's where he wanted to be. 

The Town of Blythewood and its local chamber of commerce are making the most of the week leading up to the eclipse. 

“When a ‘once-in-99-years’ event rolls through your town complete with NASA-predicted, overwhelming quantities of visitors, your town better be prepared to show itself off,” said Mike Switzer, executive director of the Greater Blythewood Chamber of Commerce.

The town and chamber are partnering with the local branch of the Richland Library to host eclipse-related seminars. There are sessions for both children and adults about eclipse photography, local history of eclipses and crafts related to the eclipse.

"Moondoggled: An Eclipsing Battle of the Bands" will take place the afternoon of the  eclipse before, during and after the totality at the town's new Palmetto Citizens Amphitheater in the 24-acre Doko Meadows park. Local bands will compete for a $500 prize. Their playlists must include at least one sun or moon-themed song.

“Plus there will be a shred truck at the park during that time so people can destroy those highly-classified, super-secret documents during the two minutes of darkness,” Switzer said. 

This Uptown article showcases what Newberry, Santee and Columbia have planned. Learn what other cities are planning here.

BMX photo credits: Wendy Waddle, City of Rock Hill

Friday, June 16, 2017

Water Water Everywhere

Take a look at the thermometer, and it’s easy to see summer is upon us. Time to head to the beach or the pool. Time to cool off floating down the river or frolicking in the local splash pad, right?
Not so fast. 
The water we count on to cool us off, water our yards and flow from our faucets isn’t guaranteed to always be there. Drought is common in South Carolina, and cities and towns need to be prepared when drought conditions occur.
Water is a limited resource that not only impacts the health and well-being of a community, but it also can be an important economic development catalyst.
The June issue of Uptown focuses on water as a resource for our state. Read more about drought, blueways, water pollution challenges and water safety.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Additional legal guidance on FOIA changes

Tiger taking a break between
conference calls
Last week's blog post about changes to the Freedom of Information Act prompted so many inquiries that the Municipal Association hosted five conference calls this week reaching dozens of local officials with an update about these changes.

Tiger Wells, the Association's government affairs liaison, was the staff member responsible for negotiating the city perspective on this legislation. He led the series of calls by walking local officials through these bullet points of highlights of the bill.

Callers raised a number of questions, but two came up several times. In response, Tiger wrote a memo to the members of the Municipal Attorneys Association with some guidance.

The first question focused on how to deal with FOIA requests for materials submitted to councilmembers from the public during a meeting. The second related to requests for records that include personal identifying information. 

Read the memo to MAA members to get the answers to these questions.

Contact Tiger at 803.933.1270 or twells@masc.sc with any questions.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Updates to the Freedom of Information Act every local official needs to know

By Tiger Wells, government affairs liaison
More than 80 mayors and councilmembers met at ten locations around the state today for the Municipal Elected Officials Institute of Government session focusing on the Freedom of Information Act. Timing for this session is perfect because, last Friday, Gov. McMaster signed H3352 that makes substantive changes to FOIA.

Carolyn Sawyer (left) talks with Bill Taylor, field services manager for the Municipal Association, and Bill Rogers, executive director of the S.C. Press Association, during the MEO Institute session on FOIA
The Municipal Association’s handbooks and website information related to FOIA are being updated to reflect these changes. We also got word from the S.C. Press Association that its Public Official's Guide to Compliance with the Freedom of Information Act is undergoing an update too. Until these updates are complete, local officials should refer to this summary to get the details on this new law.

Highlights of the impact of H3352 on local governments.

Legislators crafted H3352 to make all public bodies more responsive to records requests. The bill gives the public faster access to an official ruling when a public body either rejects or otherwise fails to satisfy a FOIA request. The bill also establishes timeframes for the public bodies receiving those requests.

One of the primary provisions of the new law outlines steps that will help public bodies in the stewardship of the public’s resources while granting new certainty to the requester about when records will be available.

For example, public bodies now have 10, rather than the previous 15, days to determine if it can respond to a FOIA request for records less than 24 months old. However, the bill extends the number of days from 15 to 20 that public bodies have to make this determination for records that are more than 24 months old.

Public bodies must now produce requested records within 30 days following its final determination about the availability of the records when they are less than two years old. Public bodies have 35 days for records older than two years.

These new response times also give a little more flexibility than before, since the law now allows the requesting party and public body to agree in writing to further timeline extensions.

Another provision focusing on good stewardship of public resources permits public bodies to deny and request circuit court review of FOIA requests that are overly broad, unduly burdensome, vague, repetitive or otherwise improper. These and other disputed requests would go to a circuit court for a determination. If the circuit court determines that the requested records are not subject to disclosure, the public body will benefit from a good faith finding that will act as a shield protecting it from paying the requesting party’s attorney’s fees and cost if the requester subsequently prevails on appeal.

This document includes details of all the changes resulting from H3352. Watch for notification of updated handbooks and website information in the weekly Uptown Update or check back to the Association’s website.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Get the scoop on the roads bill

By Scott Slatton, legislative and public policy analyst
After three years of trying, the South Carolina General Assembly adopted a state road funding plan last week. While that’s not necessarily news this week, the effects of the plan’s passage will hopefully make news in your city or town in the coming years. Get more details on the bill in last week’s From the Dome to Your Home. 

Senate Transportation Committee considering the 12 cent gas tax
South Carolina’s motor fuel user fee (the gas tax) will rise by a total of 12 cents by 2022, which will generate upwards of $350 million in new money for repair and maintenance of state roads. Unlike other pots of road money that may be diverted to other uses, these new funds will be placed into a trust fund that may only be used for “. . . repairs, maintenance and improvements to the existing transportation system.”

Importantly for cities and towns, the new law increases funding for the C Fund by about half over the next six years, eventually reaching approximately $115 million. That’s about $40 million in new money that cities and towns can seek from their County Transportation Committees for projects on state roads within their boundaries.

The new law adds a seat to the SCDOT commission, bringing the total to nine members. It allows the governor to appoint the commissioners with the advice and consent of the General Assembly. And the law allows the governor to remove SCDOT commissioners without the approval of legislators. This is a significant departure from the past when commissioners were essentially immovable by anyone unless they committed a crime.

To get an increase in the gas tax the General Assembly had to wade into tax policy by creating a menu of new tax credits to help South Carolina residents offset the additional tax they will pay at the pump. The tax policy change that cities and towns should pay attention to is the reduction in the property tax assessment ratio for manufacturers.

The manufacturing property tax assessment ratio will drop from 10.5 percent to 9 percent, but the General Assembly has set aside up to $85 million to offset the potential decrease in property tax revenue to cities, counties and schools. 

The Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office estimates it will take at least ten years before the offset reaches $85 million. And if it does, there is a circuit breaker provision in the law that will not allow the potential loss of property tax revenue to exceed the $85 million.

The law takes effect July 1, but don’t look for work to start right away. As SCDOT Secretary Christy Hall testified frequently at the General Assembly, it will take some time for contractors to staff up and mobilize for the work the new money will generate around the state.

In the meantime, thank your legislators if they voted for the new law. And maybe thank a summer tourist while he’s filling up in your town for helping us take care of our roads.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Celebrating the contributions of municipal clerks

Imagine walking into your office every day with a rack overflowing with hats. You have no idea which hats you will wear over the course of the day or what new hats might appear.

That’s a day in the life of a municipal clerk. And this week of May 7 - 13 is designated as Municipal Clerks’ week by the International Institute of Municipal Clerks to celebrate the valuable work of this role in city government.

One of local government’s oldest positions is the municipal clerk. In South Carolina, state law requires all cities to have an appointed municipal clerk regardless of a municipality's size or form of government. The clerk's responsibilities under state law include giving notice of meetings to council members and the public, keeping minutes of council proceedings, and performing other duties as assigned by council.

Greenville City Clerk Camilla Pittman, MMC, MFOCTA president, 
and West Pelzer Town Clerk/Administrator Paula Payton, CMC, at the
recent MCTI spring session.
The title "clerk" as we know it developed from the Latin “clericus.” During the Middle Ages, when scholarship and writing were limited to the clergy, clerk came to mean a scholar, especially one who could read, write, and thus serve as notary, secretary, accountant and recorder.

The beginning of the office of city clerk in England can be traced back to 1272 in the history of the Corporation of Old London. The "Remembrancer" was called upon to remind the councilors (members of the council) what had transpired at their previous meetings, since the meeting of the early councils were not recorded in written minutes.

Over the years, municipal clerks have become the hub of city government. The increasingly diverse and complex responsibilities of a municipal clerk have prompted the need for ongoing education to help clerks stay on top of trends, technology and changes in the law.

The SC Municipal Finance Officers, Clerks and Treasurers Association is the only organization in the state that provides training targeted specifically for municipal clerks. MFOCTA offers a diversity of classes and training programs throughout the year on topics as varied as compliance with the Freedom of Information Act to basic budgeting and parliamentary procedure to business licensing.  MFOCTA is the state affiliate of the International Institute of Municipal Clerks.

Additionally, the Municipal Clerks and Treasurers Institute is a multi- year program established in 1979 to give clerks more in-depth training. MCTI is the IIMC-approved state training institute.

This year, the Municipal Association introduced the first in a series of online training classes for clerks. This training is especially useful for clerks in small towns because often they aren’t able to take time away from city hall to attend out-of-town training.

The distinguished political scientist, Professor William Bennett Munro, writing in one of the first textbooks on municipal administration in 1934, stated: "No other office in municipal service has so many contracts. It serves the mayor, the city council, the city manager (when there is one), and all administrative departments without exception. All of them call upon it, almost daily, for some service or information. Its work is not spectacular, but it demands versatility, alertness, accuracy, and no end of patience. The public does not realize how many loose ends of city administration this office pulls together."

These words, written more than 80 years ago, are still fitting today.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Walk, bike drive?

By Sarita Chourey; content manager and Uptown editor
Travelers Rest Mayor Wayne McCall lives about a block from the Swamp Rabbit Trail — and that’s led to some unusual requests.
“You’d be surprised how many people, when I’d be out cutting the grass or doing something the yard, would come up and say, ‘Do you want to sell your house?’” he said.

“I’m like, ‘No, I don’t want to sell my house.’ But (they respond), ‘We want to live here because you’re a block away from the trail.’”

The nearly 20-mile multi-use greenway system links the cities of Travelers Rest and Greenville. The trail, located on a former rail bed, connects Greenville County with schools, parks, and local businesses.

McCall was one of six participants on a panel Thursday at the  Mayor's Bike and Walk Summit in Columbia. The others participants were City of Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, City of Anderson Mayor Terence Roberts, City of Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols, City of Greenville Councilmember Amy Ryberg-Doyle and City of Charleston Design Division Director Allen Davis.

The City of Columbia hosted the event, which was organized by the Palmetto Conservation Foundation, Palmetto Cycling Coalition,S.C. Safe Routes to School Resource Center and the American Diabetes Association.

The point McCall was making is that walkability, whether a trail or pedestrian-and-bike friendly design, draws visitors (more than 500,000 users annually to the Swamp Rabbit Trail), homebuyers, business investments and other benefits that come with a high quality of life.

Some questions posed during the panel discussion included:
  • How do you change the public’s attitude toward walking relatively short distances and stop, for instance, expecting a parking spot to be right in front of a restaurant?
  • If a city’s trails or walkability gets “too” popular, what are the implications for longstanding residents in the event of gentrification and displacement?  
  • How do cities add parking in a way that still encourages other modes of transportation, while also enhancing a city’s appearance and sustainability?
One audience member who had lived in Europe said European cities are not having the same debate. Instead, they are trying to come up with ways to reduce the number of cars in town, not to better accommodate more and more cars, he said.

Why not leapfrog the current conversation about parking — on-street spots, subterranean and surface lots, vertical garages, retail-on-the-bottom garages — and cut straight to the debate European cities are having about how to have fewer personally owned automobiles in cities and what that means for the non-motoring public?

A central dilemma is how to address the reality that cities must accommodate existing population pressures and demands while also preparing for an age when, perhaps, ride-booking businesses, autonomous vehicles and other innovations will call for new and different infrastructure.

“A much more thoughtful use of public resources always contemplates the fact that we don't know where we’re going to be in 30 years,” said Benjamin. “We’ve got some pretty good indicators, so we need to make sure we don’t over-build in a way that we could have used some of those very same dollars in a much more effective way to actually go where we know our public wants to go.”

This topic will be explored more in-depth in the upcoming summer issue of Cities Mean Business magazine and the July issue of Uptown.