Thursday, December 11, 2014

Expanded approach for advocacy initiatives in the 2015 session

It’s just a few weeks until the General Assembly reconvenes for the beginning of a new session. With elections in the House and new leadership in both bodies, changes at the State House are inevitable.

And change is good. For the upcoming session, the Municipal Association has made some changes to expand how we approach our work with the legislature with the goal of helping local officials in cities and towns better solve problems common to them.

The Regional Advocacy Meetings each fall give the Association’s staff more insight into the challenges facing cities and towns. Typically we have tried to address many of those challenges through a change in state law by initiating new legislation or supporting changes to existing state law that would help solve a problem.

This year, however, we have expanded that approach. Our advocacy initiatives for 2015 include more than just changes to state law or new legislation. In many cases the problems raised by local officials made us realize more training may also be needed on a particular topic…or maybe there are “best practices” in other states we could research that could solve a problem…or maybe we could collaborate with other organizations that face similar challenges.

The 2015 advocacy initiatives are
So as you look at the 2015 advocacy initiatives you will see an expansion of efforts beyond only a legislative agenda listing of bills to support or oppose. This new, more comprehensive, approach will better serve our local officials. At the same time, this approach will give our staff more opportunities to collaborate internally and with other organizations to meet the challenges all cities and towns face.

Read last week’s From the Dome to Your Home to get the latest update on progress related to these initiatives over the past several months.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Protect our hometown businesses

Did you shop online on CyberMonday this week? If so, did you pay the local and state sales tax on your purchase? By law, the consumer is supposed to pay the sales taxes owed on purchases bought from out-of-state online retailers on his income tax return as a use tax. However, there’s a good chance most consumers didn’t if they ordered from an out-of-state online retailer.

This puts our hometown brick and mortar businesses at a 5 to 10 percent competitive disadvantage to these out-of-state online retailers. Plus, millions of dollars in owed state and local sales taxes go uncollected annually. In South Carolina alone, that means more than $250 million in sales taxes owed by consumers but not collected annually.

There’s an answer to this situation that will level the playing field for our hometown brick-and-mortar businesses. The Marketplace Fairness Act could be considered in the U.S. House of Representatives this month. This legislation would grant states the authority to require out-of-state online and catalog retailers to collect sales taxes at the time of a transaction - exactly like our local retailers are already required to do.

Members of the state’s Congressional delegation need to know that this is an important issue for both our hometown businesses and our cities and towns. Make sure your Congressman sees the impact this legislation can have on his district. Click here to get more information about the MFA and details about how to contact your Congressman now.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Good news from the annual meeting of the Association's insurance pools

If it’s November, that means the members of the Association’s two insurance pools held their joint annual meeting. This week, more than 150 people representing cities that are members the South Carolina Municipal Insurance Trust (workers comp program) and the South Carolina Municipal Insurance and Risk Financing Fund (property and liability program) met in Columbia.

Members received plenty of good news from the Association’s Risk Management Services staff including reduced premium rates for several employee class codes, no increases in reinsurance expenses and increased grant funds for fire services equipment. They also got a reminder about the return of surplus of $2 million for SCMIT members and $3 million for SCMIRF members in 2015.

The RMS staff also announced plans to hire a public safety loss control consultant to support member efforts by training and advising their law enforcement and fire service departments.

RMS Loss Control Manager Venyke Harley moderated a panel discussion that addressed a variety of common risk management challenges. John Potter, director of finance with the City of North Augusta, reinforced the focus on safety in his remarks on the panel. "In North Augusta, rates are much more stable now, and as long as we continue to emphasize safety, should continue."

He also stressed safety needs to be a priority from the top. "If your chief executive is in the field, employees will work harder, smarter and safer."

Also during the panel discussion, Cindi Howard, the human resource director for the City of Conway, shared from the audience her city’s recent success with a city-wide refresher safety orientation process. This was completed with every employee as part of their open enrollment period and provided an opportunity for existing employees to revisit or learn about their benefits and city safety policies.

Thirty graduates of the inaugural class of the Risk Management Institute were recognized at the meeting for completing a total of eight classes over two years. Risk Management Services established the RMI in 2013 to educate member staff on the basics of safety and risk management principals. Course topics include Risk Management 101, OSHA, defensive driving, and law enforcement personnel best practices.

For several photos of the meeting, visit Scott Slatton's Twitter feed. Scott is the Association's legislative and public policy analyst.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Snow in opportunity for one city to shine

Who'd have thought? Snow in South Carolina in November? But sure enough it happened last Saturday.

And Clinton's city manager used the snow episode as a great way to reinforce the value of city services both in times of emergency and in everyday circumstances.

Take a minute to read Frank Stovall's blog post from this week that gives credit where credit is due for keeping services up and running...the employees of the City of Clinton.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Boutique hotels bring vibrancy to downtowns

Cities around South Carolina are finding a new opportunity for economic growth with a recent increase in the openings of downtown boutique-style hotels.

A interesting trend among these hotels is the fact they are locally owned and developed. Local entrepreneurs in Florence, Anderson and Beaufort looked to re-create the downtowns where they had grown up with their visions of these niche hotels.

Florence developer Grey Raines opened the 49-room Hotel Florence in a renovated early 20th century building in what once was the city’s main downtown shopping, dining and entertainment district. Less than five years after opening, Raines and his partners are planning an expansion of the hotel.

Florence Mayor Stephen Wukela said he saw the hotel project as a catalyst for revitalizing the city’s downtown core—a catalyst that would bring people to the area after dark.

In Beaufort, developer Matt McAlhaney said he knew there was a void in Beaufort for a downtown boutique hotel. The market for affordable hotel rooms, largely for families coming to watch basic-training graduations at Marine Depot Parris Island, was covered mostly by quality national chains. Downtown has a number of bed-and-breakfast operations that offer luxury, but focus on a different type of traveler.

“The stimulus of that one project has taken a street that was nothing but a thoroughfare and turned it into a center of commerce,” Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling said of his city’s boutique hotel, City Lofts.

City Lofts was built without financial incentives from the city. “The only city investment was encouragement,” Keyserling said.

In Anderson, developer Steve Kay noted the idea for The Bleckley Inn came after the Budweiser Clydesdales visited the city. The horses were put up in the old livery stable downtown, but the trainers who worked with the horses had to leave town each night during the visit to get to their hotel room.

Kay put together three buildings that were gutted and renovated into hotel rooms. The city was able to provide a grant of $40,000 a year for five years and about $100,000 in infrastructure improvements.

Anderson Mayor Terence Roberts hailed Kay’s local connections as a major part of his business’ success.

In just the past couple of months, the City of Lake City welcomed the opening of the Inn at the Crossroads. And the City of Hartsville will welcome a new hotel in early 2015.

Read more about these local hotels in the October Uptown.