Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Small wireless facility model ordinance ready to go

By Eric Budds, Deputy Executive Director
Anyone who uses a cell phone or other wireless device knows the increasing importance of speed and access regardless of where you are located. The telecommunications industry is rapidly building out next-generation wireless networks and its associated infrastructure to meet this growing need. 

Read more about this issue in the March Uptown.

The challenge the telecoms face, however, is the need to enhance their infrastructure with a denser network of antennas, deployed at heights closer to street level, to supplement and communicate with traditional cell towers. These antennas and support equipment — called small cells or small wireless facilities (SWF) — are attached to a pole or support structure such as a building. The control equipment mounts on either the pole or structure, or on or under the ground near the pole or structure.

Cities and towns are increasingly feeling the impact of these telecom challenges because many companies need to place these SWFs in publicly visible — and in most cases publicly regulated — spaces.

Depending on the number of mobile device users and volume of data processed, the average spacing of SWFs in urban areas ranges from a city block to a few thousand feet compared to cell towers built many miles apart. To understand the potential impact, the City of Columbia’s experience is revealing. In less than two years, the city permitted 64 SWFs and continues to process permit requests.

Over the past year, the Municipal Association has been working closely with a variety of state telecommunications companies to hammer out a model ordinance that balances municipal and telecommunications interests by streamlining the review and permitting process.

At the same time, our goal was to preserve municipal authority to control rights of way and the design and aesthetics of SWF facilities to the extent permissible in state and federal law. The model is now online for cities to access and use.

Under this model ordinance, small wireless facilities are classified as a permissible use, subject to administrative review, in municipal rights of way and abutting utility easements unless the proposed SWF location is within a historical, design or underground utility district. In these supplemental review districts, SWFs are a conditional use that affords the municipality additional review authority and protection for the character of the districts. Fees for use of the rights-of-way and business license reflect the limitations imposed by the SC Telecommunications Act of 1999.

Get more details about this issue in the
March Uptown. Download the model ordinance.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

New law brings clarity for building officials and construction industry

By Buddy Skinner, president of the Building Officials Association of SC and Building Official for the City of Greenville

The signing of H3649 by Gov. Henry McMaster this week is a milestone for the Building Officials Association of SC and proves that our partnering with the Municipal Association of SC in 2017 was a positive step for our membership and our vocation as building code professionals. 

The goal of the legislation was modification of the Engineer’s Practice Act to make it clear when an engineer’s seal was needed on construction documents for non-residential structures.

In 2016, the Act was changed to require design specifications be sealed by an engineer for nearly all non-residential structures, no matter their size. Prior to the change in 2016, an engineer’s seal was required only in certain, specific circumstances.

The change to the Act in 2016 caused confusion among building officials and the construction industry. But because chapter one of the International Building Code requires strict compliance with state statutes, code officials could only accept signed and sealed plan submittals for all projects requiring permits.

To restore clarity for building officials and relieve the regulatory burden on business, BOASC sought to revert to the language in the law that had worked so well prior to 2016. H3649 accomplished that goal and is now in effect.

Throughout the development and passage of H3649, BOASC members were able to network with multiple stakeholders to discuss and find agreeable solutions to the changes the bill proposed. BOASC’s involvement in the bill also raised our association’s profile within state government since many legislators didn’t even know it existed!

The catalyst for our success with this legislation was the Municipal Association and its staff. Without their guidance, knowledge and supervision, we would not have known where to start. Their team was able to put our membership in the right places and encouraged us to talk with the right people to accomplish the goal that we were seeking on this bill and others.

Thanks to all of the BOASC members, their municipalities and counties for their work on this important change.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Sunshine Week spotlights open government

The week of March 11 is recognized as Sunshine Week by the newspaper industry and the S.C. Press Association. It's also a good time for local elected leaders to highlight their own open government and transparency efforts.

The special section in the March issue of Uptown focuses on open government with feature stories spotlighting changes to the Freedom of Information Act, streaming council meetings and public access to digital records.

Cities of all sizes are working hard to increase access to public meetings and public records. Streaming of public meetings and digitizing of public records are becoming increasingly common - and much less expensive to produce. Uptown articles spotlight cities that are taking the lead to make sure their residents have easy access to their city government activities.

Legislation that passed in 2017 made substantial changes to the Freedom of Information Act. Changes addressed digital records, charges for copies, updating timing requirements, and the option for cities to seek court guidance on unduly broad or repetitive requests.

Another aspect of the 2017 FOIA legislation is changes to the Family Privacy Protection Act. Previously, it was illegal for an individual to get from a state agency any personal information that would be used for commercial solicitation. But now, the law expands that offense to include local governments. That means municipalities must not only provide notice of the prohibition to requesting parties but must also take steps to ensure that no individual or entity "obtains or distributes" this information for commercial solicitation. Read the article to learn more about what cities can do to protect residents' privacy. 


Thursday, February 22, 2018

S.C. Dept. of Commerce accepting nominations for Opportunity Zones for low income areas

By Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt
On behalf of Governor Henry McMaster, the S.C. Department of Commerce is pleased to announce that we will accept census tract nominations for the recently announced economic development program called Opportunity Zones

As a part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, Opportunity Zones are designed to encourage long-term private investments in low-income communities.This program provides a federal tax incentive for taxpayers who reinvest unrealized capital gains into “Opportunity Funds,” which are specialized vehicles dedicated to investing in low-income areas called “Opportunity Zones.” 

The zones themselves are to be comprised of Low-Income Community census tracts and designated by governors in every state. South Carolina may designate 25 percent of qualifying census tracts as an Opportunity Zone. 

Please note that Qualifying Zones are based on the 2011-2015 American Community Survey. Please click here to view a map of the census tracts. 


To qualify, a census tract must satisfy the definition of “low-income community," to be nominated by the Governor and approved by the U.S. Treasury.

·        Census tracts qualify as an LIC if they are considered distressed or severely distressed:

o   Distressed:

§  Poverty rate of 20 percent or greater

§  Median family income of 80 percent or less than the statewide median family income if located outside of a metropolitan area

§  Median family income of 80 percent or less than the statewide median family income or the metropolitan area median family income, whichever is higher

o   Severely Distressed:

§  Poverty rate of 30 percent or greater

§  Median family income of 60 percent or less of the area’s median family income

§  Unemployment of at least 1.5 times the national average of 8.3 percent (for the 2011-2015 ACS)

Currently, South Carolina has 534 census tracts that qualify. As a result, up to 25 percent of those tracts (134) are eligible to be nominated by the Governor. The Opportunity Zone designations remain in effect for 10 years.


If communities wish to nominate a census tract in their community for selection as an Opportunity Zone, please provide the census tract number, your contact information and a written description of why your community thinks an Opportunity Fund (private investment) would invest in this census tract. 

Provide examples of projects or potential projects within the census tract. Your census tract submission should include a balance of need and opportunity. Items for consideration are an area’s absorptive capacity for new capital, habitability for local entrepreneurs, and connection to markets, population centers, and anchor institutions that can play a critical role in facilitating growth in distressed locales.

Your submission should be no longer than one page per census tract.  If a community is requesting more than one tract, then the community MUST rank their census tracts in order of preference to be nominated as Opportunity Zones for South Carolina. 

We are accepting submissions from only one official county, city or municipal representative of your local area. Nominations should be submitted by emailing your census tract nominations to by 5 p.m. on Thursday, March 1.   

Any questions concerning this nomination process should be made in writing to this same email address. To view a copy of the congressional bill please click here.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Stay in the State House loop with social media reports

During the 2018 legislative session, officials in cities and towns can keep up with State House activities by following the Municipal Association's legislative team members who are live daily on Twitter. They are keeping local officials updated on what's happening in committee meetings, in the lobby, and in the House and Senate chambers.

This week, Scott Slatton (@ScottMuniSC) shared a series of tweets live from a House Education and Public Works committee meeting where members voted out the utility relocation bill. 

In a House Judiciary Criminal Laws subcommittee, Scott tweeted a shout-out to Rep. Gary Clary (@garyclarysc) who said that municipal courts should be included in the state's unified court system when it comes to indigent defense. Scott also reported on Tiger Wells (@TigerMuniSC) testifying before House subcommittee.
Melissa Carter (@MelissaMuniSC) shared Rep. Mandy Powers-Norell's (@MPowersNorrell) tweet about the importance of local government control related to the plastic bag ban bill.
Last week, the legislative team and lots of local officials' Twitter posts included live reports from sessions at Hometown Legislative Action Day and the Municipal Elected Officials Institute advocacy class.

Councilmember Jenn Hulehan (@Jenn4ward3) from Simpsonville kept her constituents on top of everything she learned with tweets from a State House tour and other HLAD sessions.  
One of the take-aways from the MEO Institute advocacy class
Melissa Carter retweeted Sen. Mike Fanning (@FanningforSenate) photos of visits he had with local officials in his district during HLAD.
Cayce Mayor Elise Partin (@elisepartin), president of the Municipal Association, made sure to keep her constituents stayed informed about what was happening during Hometown Legislative Action Day with lots of retweets from panel sessions, the MEO Institute graduation and Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers' (@HughWeathers) lunch speech.

Each week, the Association's legislative report, From the Dome to Your Dome, is shared frequently through the Association's and the lobbyists' Twitter accounts. With more than 5,000 followers between these four accounts, local officials, legislators, reporters, hometown residents, business leaders and partner organizations all over the state have the benefit of staying on top of issues important to cities and towns.

 Want to stay in the loop? Make sure to follow @MuniAssnSC, @TigerMuniSC, @MelissaMuniSC and @ScottMuniSC.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Celebrating 30 years of Municipal Elected Officials Institute graduates

A movie ticket was $3.50. The winter Olympics took place in Calgary, Canada, and The Wonder Years debuted on ABC-TV. This was 1988 - also the year that the Municipal Elected Officials Institute of Government graduated its first class.

Technology, transportation, downtown development and delivery of public services have changed substantially over the past 30 years. One thing that hasn't changed is the need for newly elected city council members to get the training they need in the complexities of local government.

This year, the Municipal Elected Officials Institute is celebrating 30 years of graduates.
First graduating class of the MEO Institute in 1988
For anyone elected to serve as a mayor or member of a city council in South Carolina, the Municipal Association of South Carolina offers a variety of training opportunities that give local elected leaders the tools they need to make a seamless transition from candidate to elected official. The Municipal Elected Officials Institute is a multi-faceted training program designed specifically for mayors and city councilmembers. The Advanced Institute is available to graduates seeking additional training.

More than 1,600 local officials have completed the MEO Institute since 1988. This year, there are eight cities with councils that can count 100 percent of their members as MEO Institute graduates:
  •  Blackville
  • Gray Court
  • Greer
  • Hampton
  • Hollywood
  • Inman
  • Pendleton
  • Wellford

“People who run for elected office have a real passion and love for their communities.But when campaigning turns to governing, it’s kind of like starting a new job,” said Cayce Mayor Elise Partin, president of the Municipal Association. Partin graduated from the Institute in 2010.

“Most of us come to our roles in municipal service from professions and walks of life that might not have trained us on the mechanics of local government. And that’s great, because of diversity of experiences makes us better leaders, but we need to be prepared to lead our cities and towns too."

Immediately upon election, mayors and councilmembers can enroll in a free online course that covers five basics of governing - effective leadership, the fundamentals of city services and forms of government, basic budget requirements, effective meeting and agenda procedures, and the Freedom of Information Act and Ethics Act. This course is available on-demand through the Municipal Association’s website.

Once sworn into office, mayors and councilmembers can enroll in the Municipal Elected Officials Institute. The entire curriculum of 14 classes can be completed in one year through a combination of two day-long sessions and five streamed or online classes. The Institute uses local government experts, attorneys, business leaders, higher education instructors, and municipal government and Municipal Association staff to teach the sessions.
Winter 2018 MEO Institute graduates who were recognized on Feb. 6
At the day-long sessions offered each February, topics include conducting public meetings, ethics and public accountability, planning and zoning, and business license administration.

The classes streamed to the councils of governments give local leaders a chance to get training three times a year without having to travel to Columbia. Plus they get the added advantage of networking and brainstorming time with peers in their region. To meet the goal of more flexibility in training, the online version of these classes are offered on-demand through the Municipal Association’s website.

During these streamed and online sessions, elected officials learn from leaders in both the private and public sectors about the importance of partnerships in economic development. They hear from staff with the Municipal Association and the SC Press Association about complying with the Freedom of Information Act. They learn how the three forms of government affect how a city is run and the mechanics and legalities of the municipal budget.

For graduates of the Municipal Elected Officials Institute, the Advanced Municipal Elected Officials Institute is available to give local officials more in-depth training on certain topics. Advanced Institute participants can choose between two advanced courses offered each winter and fall with the requirement of taking four of the six available classes to graduate. Launched in 2016, the Advanced Institute already has more than 150 graduates.
Advanced MEO Institute graduates were recogized on Feb. 6
Time availability to attend training can be an issue for elected officials who often have full-time jobs outside of their council responsibilities. “We know that municipal elected officials have many responsibilities and time commitments, so the time dedicated to training must be well spent," said Wayne George, executive director of the Municipal Association. 

George, mayor of Mullins, S.C. from 1988 - 2004 and a 1991 Institute graduate, was the first official from a city in Marion County to graduate from the Institute.
“We have tried to design a flexible training program that meets both the goals of gaining technical knowledge and sharing best practices with their peers in other cities,”  George said.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Changes to the Local Government Fund Considered

The Local Government Fund has been an important and stable source of local government revenue for almost 20 years. Since Fiscal Year 2010, the LGF has seen substantial reductions due to a shrinking state general fund and additional reductions imposed by the General Assembly.
In recent years, members of the General Assembly have been considering changes to the LGF and evaluating how the Local Government Fund is calculated for distribution to cities and counties.

Last fall, the Speaker of the House appointed an ad committee chaired by Rep. Leon Stavranakis to review the revenue needs of municipalities and counties, and modify the current funding methodology of the LGF. 

During its two meetings in late 2017, committee members heard testimony from Melissa Carter with the Municipal Association, other local government interests and Frank Rainwater, the state’s chief economist, to gather input about local government revenue and expenditure trends.

Last week, state budget hearings began with a Ways and Means subcommittee taking testimony about county and municipal requests for funding.

In the 2017 session, Rep. Russell Ott introduced H3099 that changes the formula to reflect the projected growth in the general fund.

Assuring the future of the LGF as a stable and reliable revenue source is one of the Municipal Association’s Advocacy Initiatives for 2018. At Hometown Legislative Action Day on February 6, hear from a panel of House members who will discuss proposals being considered to update the LGF formula.

Read From the Dome to your Home every Friday to keep up with the debate surrounding changes in the LGF. Learn more about the history of the LGF.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Meet the Municipal Association's new executive director

The new executive director of the Municipal Association of South Carolina is Wayne George, a former mayor, city councilmember and state legislator. The Association represents the state's 271 cities and towns, providing training, advocacy at the state and federal levels, and programs that give local officials the tools they need to provide quality services.

There's something unique about serving in local government, says George. Working to improve quality of life at the city and town level is just different because you can quickly see the positive results. 

George was mayor of Mullins for 16 years after serving on city council from 1980 to 1988. "Generally, you can see light at the end of the tunnel. At the state level, sometimes you can't see things progressing as you'd like it to."

But, of course, it's not easy making decisions that affect the lives of your next-door neighbors and the people you see at church, the grocery store and your children's school.

Local governments, George said, "are sometimes not completely understood by the general public. But we are the government that's closest to the people."

George succeeds Miriam Hair who retired in December after 32 years with the Association, the last nine as executive director.

"Wayne's background in local government, experience at the State House, organizational experience as a successful business owner, and years of involvement with the Municipal Association on staff and on the board made him the ideal candidate for executive director," said Cayce Mayor Elise Partin, who chairs the Association's board. "His dedication to the strength of local government, which increases the strength of our state, will continue the positive difference the Association makes."

Before joining the Association, George had a career in insurance after founding his own company. He also worked in the Municipal Association's Risk Management Services division and as a field service representative for the Association from 2004 to 2010. Later, George represented parts of Dillon, Horry and Marion counties in the S.C. House of Representatives for two terms after his election in 2012.

George is particularly attuned to the challenges that rural cities and towns in South Carolina face. In 2004, then-Gov. Mark Sanford named him Rural Innovator of the Year for his idea to locate the Florence-Darlington Technical College satellite campus to downtown Mullins, his downtown revitalization efforts, and his support for the preservation of historic properties.

George attended Coastal Carolina University on a basketball scholarship and earned bachelor's degrees from Coastal Carolina and from Morris College. He founded The George Agency, raised three sons with his wife, Helen, and served on the Coastal Carolina University Board of Trustees from 2006 – 2012.

George says he's particularly looking forward to getting reacquainted with the many municipal officials he has known for years and meeting the new ones. He'll be busy. The November elections brought substantial changes in city halls across the state.

Together, in the Appalachian, Catawba, Central Midlands and Upper Savannah councils of governments, 54 cities had general elections, council seats had a turnover rate of 41 percent and mayoral seats had a turnover rate of 43 percent — 29 percent of councilmembers did not seek re-election, while 25 percent of mayors did not run again.

In the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester, Lowcountry, Lower Savannah, Waccamaw, Santee Lynches and Pee Dee councils of government, 86 cities and towns had general elections, resulting in a turnover rate of 31 percent for council seats and 33 percent for mayoral seats — 18 percent of councilmembers and 25 percent of mayors did not seek re-election.

But getting to know the hundreds of new and veteran public officials alike — from city halls to the S.C. State House — and across other statewide organizations is likely to be a pleasure for George, who says he has always worked well with residents from diverse groups. He recalled the best advice he's ever received about working with others, words from his parents.

"Always be fair."