Thursday, May 21, 2020

Moving South Carolina’s Small Business Community Forward

by Jenny Boulware, Main Street South Carolina manager 

The consequences of COVID-19 have been incredibly far-reaching — for lives, for health and for livelihoods. In recent months, the public and nonprofit sectors have worked tirelessly and resourcefully to help small businesses pivot through the disruptions that the public health emergency has created. As South Carolina works toward recovery, downtown economic development programs are providing critically important guidance to their businesses about reopening.

One of the first recovery initiatives that many of Main Street South Carolina’s communities pursued was the surveying of potential customers to understand their comfort levels for crowds, visiting businesses and online shopping habits. Resident surveys conducted across the state revealed that many consumers want public hand sanitizer stations and expanded online presence for greater shopping options. They wish to avoid large crowds, especially indoors, until the danger is decreased, but even so, the majority of consumers surveyed are ready to patronize businesses again. Survey results have been shared with municipal leadership and the business community to inform reopening processes. 

Other initiatives include providing direct financial assistance to downtown businesses, similar to Paycheck Protection Program funding. Several of South Carolina’s Main Street communities have taken the lead on developing new business models. For instance, the City of Beaufort created ordinances to provide expanded outdoor dining options. Uptown Greenwood and Downtown Florence are examples of those who developed online COVID-19 resource pages — including reopening tips — for local businesses. These are updated daily as new information comes available. Recovery task forces have also been established to guide reopening strategies. 

City and town governments can consider building greater flexibility into local codes to allow for emerging innovations in response to changing realities. This could include providing generous 10-minute parking spaces to accommodate curbside pickups for restaurants and retailers. It could also include developing uniform signage to explain expectations and precautions while shopping, dining and exploring downtown. Coordinated training can assist local businesses who are developing or expanding their online presence. Pages on the city’s website with lists of resources can help small businesses and nonprofits keep up with any available funding opportunities. 

While the pace of reopening is gradual, reviving South Carolina’s local economies with a thorough support plan for reopening is critical. Additional reopening strategies, ideas, hints and tips for businesses, business districts and organizations can be found at the Reopen Main Street website of the Downtown Professionals Network

In April, Main Street directors in Laurens, Florence and Cheraw joined the City Quick Connect podcast to discuss how they are working with businesses and helping them find ways to recover. Listen to the podcast.

In April, South Carolina’s Main Street directors remotely assembled a visual message of appreciation and encouragement for their downtown communities as business owners worked to stay safe and stay in business.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

May 3 – 9 Is Professional Municipal Clerks Week

There is only one staff role that South Carolina law requires of every one of the state’s cities and towns, no matter their form of government: that of the municipal clerk. Every year, to call attention to the value of this role, the International Institute of Municipal Clerks marks Professional Municipal Clerks Week, which in 2020 reaches its 51st year. 

The position is not one that frequently gains attention, but it is a crucial one for keeping a local government operating. Responsibilities for clerks include things like preparing the agendas for council meetings and then creating minutes of the meetings. 

Clerks also maintain the records of a city’s ordinances and council’s resolutions, as well as the records of appointed commissions and committees. Many clerks also serve as financial officers and administrators. Clerks must keep up with the technological needs of local government. That aspect of their work has taken on a major new dimension during the COVID-19 pandemic since many councils have gathered remotely in electronic meetings for the first time. Clerks have played a critical role in working out the many technical and training issues of ensuring that councilmembers can participate in these meetings and that the public can watch them and even take part in public hearings. 

The SC Municipal Finance Officers, Clerks and Treasurers Association provides training for each of those professions. The listserve it provides for discussion among its members has in recent months included more of a focus on clerks discussing the logistics involved in virtual council meetings. The topic has also received attention in the Municipal Resources for COVID-19 videocast series from the Municipal Association.

The SC Municipal Finance Officers, Clerks and Treasurers Association, which has many municipal clerks among its past presidents, provides training for the varied job responsibilities of its members. 

MFOCTA is also a cosponsor of the Municipal Clerks and Treasurers Institute. It’s a three-year program which counts toward the International Institute of Municipal Clerks' Certified Municipal Clerks designation.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Governing Through the Coronavirus Emergency

Ever since the coronavirus began disrupting health, safety and economic stability in South Carolina, the state’s cities and towns have worked to provide leadership and support for their residents and businesses. Leaders everywhere have been learning and finding ways to continue their operations and public meetings under unprecedented circumstances. 

Council, finance operations 
City and town councils have discovered ways to continue their public meetings and address pressing business items while using caution. They achieved this through holding virtual meetings — working their way through technical issues and learning curves — and applying social distancing at in-person meetings. 

Other issues have grown more critical as the emergency has progressed, including developing and passing budgets, as well as staging public hearings when needed. In the past month, the Municipal Association of SC has created a videocast series, Local Resources for COVID-19. In it, Association staff help with many of the governance questions that have arisen. The episodes have covered many topics:

  • Episode 1: Meetings During COVID-19 Response – Virtual meetings create questions for issues such as quorums, emergency ordinances and SC Freedom of Information Act. This presentation provides guidance on those issues. 
  • Episode 2: Meeting Schedules – This session includes frequently asked questions for the Municipal Association’s field services managers, and provides guidance on scheduling and delaying public meetings. 
  • Episode 3: Electronic Meetings – This video takes a look at the basics of calling an electronic council meeting and establishing councilmember procedures for them. 
  • Episode 4: Electronic Meetings Best Practices – Once an electronic meeting is scheduled, city councils need to be able to manage the software for the meeting and making sure that councilmembers can adequately participate in the meeting and the public can see the proceedings. 
  • Episode 5: Public Hearings During Emergency – Learn about issues to consider when postponing public hearings, or setting them up using social distancing precautions. 
  • Episode 6: Public Input When Meetings Cannot Be Delayed – There are issues for public bodies to consider when postponing public hearings or setting them up using social distancing precautions. 
  • Episode 7: Business License Collection Processes – Disruptions in regular commerce are likely to make paying business license taxes on time more difficult. Cities have different options for helping local enterprises stay in business. The information in this session is also found in written form here
  • Episode 8: Adopting a Budget – Most South Carolina cities have a July 1 start date for their fiscal year, so they need to be developing and adopting budgets in the face of fiscal uncertainty. This session looks at issues to consider when handling the budget process. 
  • Episode 9: Municipal Budget Impacts of COVID-19 – This session looks at the potential impact of COVID-19 on a variety of municipal revenue sources. 
  • Episode 10: Borrowing Funds – Take a look at borrowing issues relating to general fund cash flow, enterprise fund revenue, hospitality and accommodations tax payments, refinancing as well as existing covenants.  

Find all the videos here

The Association has also created guidance on many of the governor’s executive orders issued during this emergency. 

Business support 
Cities and towns have often found ways to help businesses faced with hardship from the pandemic. Many have served as a source of valuable, current information to businesses on federal assistance programs and other resources. In other cases, cities have amplified the message that their local businesses remain open, through website listings, social media, and even by posting signage for dedicated pickup locations for curbside restaurant service. 

Resources that can help with these efforts are available on the Small Business Support page. Also, in a recent City Quick Connect podcast, Main Street South Carolina Manager Jenny Boulware talked to the Main Street directors in Cheraw, Florence and Laurens about how they have been helping businesses with COVID-19 disruptions. 

Find all of the Municipal Association’s coronavirus resources on this web page.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

May Is Building Safety Month

Building codes protect the people who live and work in buildings from fire hazards, structural collapses and weather-related disasters. Each May, the International Code Council organizes Building Safety Month to raise awareness of the need for local governments to adopt modern building codes and update them regularly. The month is also intended to help the public better understand what the creation of safe, sustainable structures requires. The ICC provides an awareness campaign toolkit and a proclamation guide cities and towns can use to declare a Building Safety Month. 

This year’s Building Safety Month is split into four weekly emphasis areas: 

The Building Officials Association of South Carolina, an affiliate of the Municipal Association of SC, assists the state’s hundreds of licensed building officials, inspectors, plans examiners and the construction industry in their vital work. BOASC offers educational and networking opportunities, an annual meeting and legislative advocacy for the needs of building officials. As an example of its outreach efforts, BOASC partnered last month with the Homebuilders Association of SC and other industry groups to promote a COVID-19 job safety awareness day. And for municipalities looking to adopt the International Building Code, BOASC also provides a guide for adoption

A recent issue of Uptown took a look into a day in the life of a codes enforcement officer. The article brought together the perspectives of the staff members fulfilling this role in Abbeville, Hartsville and Loris on everything from the legal to administrative and even interpersonal issues involved.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Sunshine Week Shines Light on the Importance of Governmental Transparency

Every March, the newspaper industry and the SC Press Association mark Sunshine Week as a time to focus on governmental transparency and the community value of open access to public information. 

This year’s Sunshine Week comes at a time when the new coronavirus has caused a rapidly advancing list of closures and cancellations in local government and elsewhere. This has led to questions about announcing and conducting public meetings of city and town councils as well as other bodies in compliance with the SC Freedom of Information Act. The Municipal Association has provided guidance on issues such as setting up emergency meetings and how councilmembers can participate in meetings remotely. 

Open government is also the focus of the March issue of Uptown. The issue includes a look at the specific staff members charged with handling FOIA requests in Simpsonville, Clemson and Myrtle Beach. 

Another article explains the changes that came about in the most recent update to South Carolina’s freedom of information law in 2017. This FOIA update specified that information received from local governments in response to a FOIA request cannot be used for commercial solicitation. It also reduced the length of time governments have to respond to FOIA requests. The update added new requirements for how governments may charge fees for the process of searching and making copies of records. 

FOIA requires that the meetings of public bodies must generally be open to the public, after being advertised appropriately, but several exceptions exist to allow for confidentiality that promotes the overall public good. Bodies may therefore enter into executive session, a portion of the meeting that is closed to the public. This Uptown article explains the correct way to enter into executive session and operate during the session, as well as the consequences of misusing executive session. 

For an overall look at FOIA specifics, see the SC Press Association’s Public Official's Guide to Compliance with the S.C. Freedom of Information Act.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

2020 Census Day Is Almost Here

In a few weeks, Wednesday, April 1, 2020, will arrive — the measurement date for the 2020 Census. April is also when the U.S. Census Bureau is scheduled to release its estimates of 2019 population numbers. 

Next, the Census Bureau will conduct follow-up efforts through July, aimed at improving the accuracy of the count. Many local governments in South Carolina have created Complete Count Committees to improve response rates. Existing estimates show that this census will be a significant one for South Carolina. The 2010 Census counted 4.6 million people living in South Carolina, a number that grew to about 5.1 million by the 2018 estimate. 

Municipal governments have a huge interest in making sure every resident is counted, and they can stay involved up to and even after Census Day. Data from the 2020 Census will contribute to many funding decisions. At the federal level, the numbers will help to determine who receives billions of dollars of funding for areas like transportation, healthcare and education. The data also drives South Carolina’s Local Government Fund allocations. 

2020 Census resources 

Thursday, March 5, 2020

What City Officials Should Know About the New Coronavirus

Most municipalities have disaster plans in place for floods, tornadoes or hurricanes. Yet outbreaks in recent years of flu strains as well as the new coronavirus, have led many city leaders to adjust their disaster plans or create new ones that would allow city services to keep running in the event of a pandemic. 

When a pandemic strikes, people in many areas become ill at the same time. It is the responsibility of state and local governments to continue providing services to the public while stemming the spread of the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

In South Carolina, city governments have no direct responsibility for vaccinations, education or public health functions. Yet city leaders still need to have policies in place to provide both regular services and reassurances to residents, even if a majority of the city employees are affected by the pandemic. 

Most municipalities are keeping a close watch on coronavirus developments, and making sure their employees are taking steps to stay healthy. Local governments have been stressing the importance of individual infection control measures, such as washing hands frequently and using sanitizers and proper cough etiquette. 

If a pandemic strikes, the key to slowing its spread is to reduce or eliminate contact with sick individuals. Many municipalities are encouraging sick employees to stay home. 

While health officials continue to monitor outbreaks of the coronavirus, there is always a risk that the situation could change quickly in South Carolina. Health officials urge local governments to continue to promote healthy practices to prevent spreading the illness and to have a plan in place for worst-case scenarios. 

DHEC Resources 

Additional Resources 

The Association will post additional resources as they become available to our website.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Municipal Association of SC Supports New Version of the Business License Bill

The Municipal Association staff has worked with legislators and stakeholders to negotiate on H4431, the business license bill. The Association has been negotiating standardization and is committed to finding a resolution that’s fair for cities and businesses. 

This week, the House Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee amended the bill. The amendment struck all of the original bill’s existing language and replaced it with standardization language. Language was also added to clarify the circumstances under which some businesses do or do not have to pay the business license tax. Because the amended bill has language which would standardize the business license process, it is now appropriate to support H4431 as amended. Support for the bill could change if any amendments to the bill include language that would harm cities and towns. 

Here are some details of the current amendment: 

  • All business licenses statewide would have the due date of April 30. May 1 would start the license year, and penalties would begin after May 1. 
  • Business license taxes would be calculated based on gross income for either the calendar year or the business’ fiscal year, with some additional rules specific to contractors. The original bill called for a calculation of the tax based on net income, which the Municipal Association opposed. 
  • A standard business license application would be distributed by the SC Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office. 
  • Jurisdictions would be required to adopt an updated class schedule every odd year, with the schedule recommended by the Municipal Association of SC and adopted by the Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office. Jurisdictions would have some flexibility to create sub-classes for economic development. 
  • As a payment option for businesses, business license renewals can be made through an online payment portal hosted and managed by the Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office. The entire taxpayer payment would go directly to jurisdictions. Jurisdictions would still be required to accept payments by other means, such as in person, by phone or mail. 

Read a summary of the standardization language included in the amended version of the bill.

Municipal officials should contact their legislators to support H4431 as amended and keep up to date as the legislative session continues. Be sure to read From the Dome to Your Home, the weekly legislative report, and listen to the City Quick Connect podcast. 

In the latest episode of the podcast, the Municipal Association’s Director of Advocacy and Communications Scott Slatton and Manager for Municipal Advocacy Casey Fields discuss many of the specifics of the new version of H4431.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

2020 Hometown Legislative Action Day Focuses on Business License Legislation

Hometown Legislative Action Day on February 4 brought together about 475 representatives of cities and towns around South Carolina. Municipal officials heard from state senators on many issues impacting the state and local level, most notably business license legislation. In the afternoon, they headed to the State House to engage with their own delegations. 

State Senate President Sen. Harvey Peeler gave the opening keynote address, calling attention to the importance of the relationship between the General Assembly and local officials. He outlined critical topics for the current legislative session, including education reform, the future of Santee Cooper and the $1.8 billion budget surplus, and closed with a reminder of the importance of the 2020 Census. 

“If you’re going to do one thing for your cities and towns, make sure that the people are counted,” he said. 

A senate panel discussion brought together Sens. Tom Davis, Shane Massey, Ronnie Sabb and Katrina Shealy. They dug into many of the same key issues as Peeler, and discussed the possibilities for H4431, the bill that would change the methods by which a business license tax is calculated, purchased and enforced. 

Sen. Marlon Kimpson spoke during lunch. He covered such topics as affordable housing as well as past and current legislative preemption efforts in areas such as wages, vaping and plastic bag bans. 

“The reality is that the people on city council, and the people in Inman, Georgetown, Spartanburg, Greenville, and all the towns are in a better position than me to determine whether or not plastic bags are an issue in your jurisdiction,” he said. 

Cornelius Huff, mayor of Inman and president of the Municipal Association of SC, also touched on the value that local government brings when protecting residents and local businesses. 

“We are the government closest to the people making decisions that affect our residents’ basic quality of life every day. We are listening to the concerns from residents about plastic bags in creeks and rivers. We are listening to the concerns from residents about vape shops located near schools and churches,” he said. “And guess what? We are taking action. We are answering those concerns with action and changes at the local level.” 

Municipal Association Executive Director Todd Glover discussed the threat that H4431 would have on $400 million of revenue that cities and towns collect every year to provide services. He said the Municipal Association believes that passing a bill that is advantageous to both municipal government and to businesses during the current session would be beneficial. 

The Municipal Association supports standardization of business licensing practices as a way to treat businesses and cities fairly. This includes standardization of due dates as well as the passage of the model business license ordinance, which has happened in about 130 municipalities. 

Other HLAD sessions included “Place Branding and Economic Development,” highlighting efforts in Charleston, Lake City and Travelers Rest. The SC State Election Commission provided a presentation on issues seen in recent election cycles and demonstrated the new voting system it began using in 2019. Attendees also heard from the SC Public Employee Benefit Authority about the state’s retirement systems and health plan, and also from the Municipal Association’s Risk Management Services on reducing liability and claims costs. Presentation materials from HLAD will be posted on the Municipal Association’s website.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Final Preparations for Hometown Legislative Action Day

Hometown Legislative Action Day, the day for municipal officials to gather in Columbia to amplify their voices on behalf of their cities and towns, arrives next Tuesday, February 4. 

The general session this year will bring messages from several state senators, including Sen. Harvey Peeler, president of the Senate, as well as Sen. Marlon Kimpson, who will speak during lunch. There’s also more to learn about other sessions and the 2019 – 2020 Municipal Association Advocacy Initiatives in an article that appeared in the January edition of Uptown. As in past years, visits to the State House will take place after lunch, giving attendees an opportunity to meet legislators face to face. 

The preregistration deadline for HLAD has passed, but onsite registration for the conference will still be available on February 4. There are several ways attendees can prepare for HLAD: 

  • Download the meeting app. The app connects meeting attendees with the agenda for both HLAD and the Municipal Elected Officials Institute. It allows users to set a personalized schedule and get information about the presenters and the attendees. Receive important notifications during the event and connect with other attendees using the internal social network. The app is available through the App Store or Google Play by searching for “MuniAssnSC,” or by using the link
  • Check out the full agenda. The agenda is available both on the Municipal Association’s website and on the app. 
  • Know where to park. The parking garage behind the Marriott, with entrances on Hampton and Sumter streets, will have limited availability. Meeting attendees and hotel guests may not park above level 4-A in this garage or the vehicle will be towed. Additional parking will be available at the parking garage located at 1200 Taylor St. (one block from the hotel). City parking fees will apply. 

Courses for the Municipal Elected Officials Institute and Advanced MEO Institute will take place the next day on February 5. MEO graduates receive recognition both during Hometown Legislative Action Day and in press releases from the Municipal Association afterward.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

The 2020 Legislative Season Has Arrived

Earlier this week, the SC General Assembly returned to Columbia to begin the second half of the 2019 – 2020 legislative session. There are several things city and town leaders should be thinking about heading into the legislative season. 

Attend Hometown Legislative Action Day on February 4 
Hometown Legislative Action Day gives municipal officials a time to gather in Columbia to get involved in legislative issues and meet with members of the General Assembly. This year, the gathering will delve into the topics of local decision-making and business licensing. An HLAD preview appeared in the December issue of Uptown

HLAD will take place at the Marriott in Columbia. Registration and hotel information are available now. The preregistration deadline is next week on Thursday, January 23. 

Keep up with what’s happening 

An easy way to stay up to date is to read From the Dome to Your Home. This is a weekly report during the legislative session on all legislative activity that impacts municipalities. The report also suggests action steps and takes a look at the upcoming week. Ongoing coverage of the session is also available through the City Quick Connect podcastNew episodes are released on Mondays during the session. 

Bills that were introduced in 2019 are still active for the 2020 session. Many of these bills preempt local governments from making decisions at the local level on issues important to local residents. Changes to business licensing, short-term rentals and plastic bag bans are just a few. For those interested in following along with specific bills, check the legislative tracking system. The system also includes the prefiled bills for 2020 to be considered this year.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Take a Look at Professional Development in the New Year

The Municipal Association of SC offers numerous affiliate associations to help city and town employees with professional development needs. These groups provide specific training opportunities and online resources as well as networking — both through meetings and listserves. 

In 2019, the SC Community Development Association was part of a group touring projects in North Augusta and Aiken, including the new City of Aiken Department of Public Safety

Affiliate memberships run on a calendar year schedule. Municipal staff will receive a mailed membership notice in early January but may also renew or join online. Here are the groups and their benefits: 
  • Building Officials Association of SC – BOASC focuses on the challenges of administering and enforcing building and related codes in order to protect the life, health and property of building occupants. Staff contact: Elizabeth Copeland 
  • Municipal Court Administration Association of SC – MCAA provides training for court administrators, clerks of court, municipal judges and other employees involved in court administration. Staff contact: Sara Snell 
  • Municipal Technology Association of SC – MTASC exposes members to a broad range of technology systems, platforms and solutions. It offers training for IT staff, those with GIS responsibilities and employees working in other departments but whose duties include technology services. Staff contact: Sara Snell 
  • SC Association of Municipal Power Systems – SCAMPS focuses on legislative initiatives, mutual aid and provides training for elected officials, management staff and operational personnel of the electric cities in the state. Staff contact: Elizabeth Copeland 
  • SC Association of Stormwater Managers – SCASM offers quarterly training on stormwater management policies and best practices. Training addresses topics like proposed changes to stormwater regulations and case studies of innovative practices. Staff contact: Sara Snell
  • SC Business Licensing Officials Association – BLOA promotes best practices for administering the local business and professional license tax through training, networking and the Accreditation in Business Licensing and Masters in Business Licensing. Staff contact: Elizabeth Copeland 
  • SC Community Development Association – CDA training focuses on economic and community development needs, best practices and successful case studies. Members come from local and state government as well as private industry, elected positions and volunteer positions. Staff contact: Sara Snell 
  • SC Municipal Attorneys Association – The MAA annual training, designed for city and town attorneys, complies with the Supreme Court of South Carolina Commission on CLE and specialization requirements for continuing education credits. Staff contact: Eric Shytle 
  • SC Municipal Finance Officers, Clerks and Treasurers Association – MFOCTA training covers the diverse job responsibilities of its members. MFOCTA sponsors the Municipal Clerks and Treasurers Institute with the Municipal Association and the Joseph P. Riley Jr. Center for Livable Communities. Staff contact: Elizabeth Copeland 
  • SC Municipal Human Resources Association – MHRA helps members stay current on state and federal labor law and court rulings. Its trainings are accepted by national human resources organizations for continuing education credits. Staff contact: Sara Snell 
  • SC Utility Billing Association – SCUBA trains members on utility billing, collections and customer service. Programs frequently focus on customer service skills, workplace safety, and best practices in utility billing and collections. Staff contact: Ken Ivey 

The Annual Meeting of the SC Association of Municipal Power Systems is a time for the state’s city and town power systems to share technical developments and management practices. 

More information 
A recent City Quick Connect podcast featured a discussion of the affiliate associations and their specific training opportunities. An Uptown article also covered the offerings of the various affiliates.