Thursday, April 27, 2017

May is Building Safety Month

By Scott Slatton, legislative and public policy advocate
May is designated as Building Safety Month to recognize of all aspects of building safety. This recognition helps residents, employers and policymakers understand and appreciate the best practices that keep safe the places where we live, work and play. 

City councils around the state are passing proclamations recognizing Building Safety Month. 

Homes and buildings that are built in compliance with building safety codes result in safe structures that minimize the risks of death, injury and property damage. 

Regardless of the department code officials work in — building, fire, planning or elsewhere — they provide public safety by ensuring buildings are constructed safely.

Because safe structures minimize the risk of property damage, property owners may pay lower insurance costs and councils may save millions of taxpayer dollars when rebuilding from natural disasters.

Based on building science, technical knowledge and past experiences, model building codes provide protection from man-made and natural disasters, guarding public health and reducing property losses. The codes address all aspects of construction, from structural to fire prevention, plumbing and mechanical systems, and energy efficiency.

Building codes have protected the public for thousands of years. The earliest known code of law — the Code of Hammurabi, king of the Babylonian Empire, written circa 2200 B.C. — severe penalties, including death, if a building was not constructed safely.

The regulation of building construction in the United States dates back to the 1700s. In the early 1900s, the insurance industry and others with similar concerns developed the first model building code.
In South Carolina, the Building Officials Association of SC was formed in 1951 so that building officials could exchange ideas, discuss problems and promote safety for life, health and property. In 2017, BOASC joined with the Municipal Association of SC to become its newest affiliate organization
The Municipal Association of SC helps BOASC continue its mission by providing training opportunities, advocating for better legislation and helping develop a model ordinance that all cities and towns can use. This recent article in Columbia Business Monthly looks at BOASC’s work to train building officials.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Sharing economy presents challenges to cities

With summer peeking around the corner, it’s time for people to start making vacation plans. Today, we’re seeing more and more people opt to stay in private homes they find through “sharing economy” websites. Also known as “collaborative consumption,” these sites let consumers share access to products or services, rather than having individual ownership.

Some of today’s most well-known collaborative consumption options for short-term rentals include Airbnb and HomeAway. Uber, Rideshare and Lyft are popular for transportation. Then there are also the emerging markets like on-demand scooters and food trucks.

This sharing economy trend is raising many questions for local governments on issues from taxation to land use to public safety. Home sharing has the potential to alter the character of established neighborhoods, and many communities are carefully considering the best way to accommodate the demand for these new types of lodging, while still protecting the safety of housing, neighborhood character and land planning goals.

Understanding South Carolina’s regulations and tax treatments for short-term residential rentals is an important step before developing sharing-economy rental policies.

South Carolina has five general types of short-term rentals for tax purposes. Get details about each type in this Uptown article.

·       Hotels and motels
·       Rentals of second homes and investment properties
·       Rentals of primary residential homes between 15 and 72 days per year
·       Rentals of primary residential homes for up to 14 days a year
·       Rentals of six bedrooms or less in a residential home occupied by the home owner

Regardless of the type of short-term rental, travel companies such as Airbnb and Expedia, through which the rental is booked and paid, owe taxes, including business license, state accommodations, sales and local accommodations.

Currently, the S.C. Department of Revenue collects state sales and accommodations taxes from Airbnb. Although travel companies owe these taxes, they are not consistently paying business license taxes or local accommodations taxes to local governments.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

S.C. cities and towns: As sky goes dark, it’s time to shine

With visitors coming from around the world to experience a total solar eclipse on August 21 — the likes of which hasn’t happened for 99 years — some 140 South Carolina cities and towns are uniquely positioned to offer residents and visitors a phenomenal couple of minutes. 

But with a bit of planning, the approximately 2 ½-minute event (length depends on where a city sits inside the path of the eclipse) can have a lasting impact on a city’s image and economic development potential.

“An eclipse like this is a humbling, jaw-dropping experience that stays with you for the rest of your life,” said Tracie Broom, co-founding partner of Flock and Rally, the Columbia-based marketing firm that is leading the Midlands’ eclipse campaign. “It’s going to be a profound experience.” 

Any town or city “in the path of the totality” can use the once-in-a-lifetime event to showcase its unique appeal. Tracie said, “Plan a free public viewing event, make sure there is some shade and cool beverages, hire someone to manage parking, traffic and sanitation, coordinate with public safety officials and logistics organizers, and finally, make sure you’ve advertised the event.” 

The City of Columbia’s eclipse website is already chock full of lots of great resources other cities can use to prepare for this once-in-a-lifetime experience. The press kit can be especially valuable to get planning started in a city of any size. Tracie also points to eclipse planning guide on the website that can be helpful.

“You can have an incredible economic impact,” she said, adding that people from England have already booked reservations to experience the eclipse in Columbia.
The state’s capital city is the nation’s third largest city on the center line of the path of totality, with the longest duration of a 100 percent total solar eclipse on the East Coast, according to the campaign’s website. 

“If you’ve got any tourism assets, pull ’em out, shine ’em up and put ’em on display,” Tracie said.

The Municipal Association is gathering information about what cities are planning and will soon be posting this information on its website. Also, the Association will be sharing ideas and tips for cities interested in hosting viewing events. Stay tuned.

To add local events to the Association's eclipse page, contact Reba Campbell.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Cities going green: It's becoming a way of life

Sustainability is a term we hear a lot these days, but what exactly does it mean?

According to several city staff members around the state, sustainability can have many definitions depending on a community's unique environment. The April issue of Uptown features interviews with city officials in Columbia, Kiawah Island, Bluffton and Summerville talking about their perspectives on the meaning of sustainability.

The focus of April's special section in Uptown is all about sustainability and environmental issues.

The General Assembly hotly debated several bills this session that have home rule implications. One bill would have removed city control over banning plastic bags. In an interesting alliance among several often competing interests, the bill has been defeated for the year. Legislators took to the floor warning the bill would impede local councils from doing what their residents and business owners wanted. Both Folly Beach and Isle of Palms had already taken action to ban some types of plastic bags after encouragement from the local business community.

Solar panels are no longer just an experimental source of electricity. They are becoming more widespread for residential and commercial use. The S.C. Energy Office is taking the lead to educate homeowners, business owners and local governments about what to look for when considering the economic implications of solar panels.
Rendering of new Kiawah Island Town Hall
Green buildings are no longer a thing of the future. Many South Carolina cities are taking steps to not only ensure new and old buildings alike will be as safe as possible for the environment but also save money for the city. From bike-friendly design and low-flood plumbing fixtures and special roofing materials to repurposing existing buildings, Kiawah, North Charleston, Sullivan's Island, Cayce and Greenwood have stepped up to the green challenge.

There's a lot we can learn from our neighboring states. Georgia and North Carolina have many examples of environmentally friendly practices in their cities and towns including innovative "green" programs, the Better Building Challenge, new development codes and partnerships to encourage urban gardening.