Thursday, February 28, 2019

A Day in the Life of the Municipal Association’s Legislative Team

Every Monday before the legislative session begins on Tuesday, the Municipal Association’s Manager for Municipal Advocacy Casey Fields provides members of the Association’s legislative team — Melissa Carter, Scott Slatton and Tiger Wells — with their schedules.

The Association tracks every bill in the House and the Senate which touches the operations of South Carolina’s cities and towns, an amount currently totaling 260 proposals. Any of these bills may be on a subcommittee or committee agenda, and the legislative team may need to testify on them. As Fields puts it, “anytime one of the bills is before a committee or subcommittee, we are there.” Planning the schedules becomes all the more challenging when multiple hearings are happening at the same time. 

After their strategy meeting on Monday, the team hosts its 4 p.m. phone call to discuss strategy with municipal managers, administrators and city lobbyists. Then, from Tuesday to Thursday, they’re off to meetings, which can be anything from an early-morning subcommittee hearing at the State House to an evening reception. At the end of the day Thursday, they all take a look at the Association’s legislative report, From the Dome to Your Home, which goes live Friday, around the same time that one or more of them may be recording information to send out through the City Quick Connect podcast. 

The session ends in the midst of Annual Meeting planning, after which they’re planning the fall’s Regional Advocacy Meetings around the state, which guide the Association’s Advocacy Initiatives in the next year. In other words, the full preparations for the 2020 session will begin as soon as the 2019 session ends. 

Each member of the team has advocated on behalf of municipalities for many years now, and they can point to many high points over time — the growing engagement of city leaders in advocating for legislative initiatives, the 2010 compromise that enabled local governments to put property on tax rolls at full market value when the property is sold, the 2012 law which preserved cities’ ability to collect a brokers tax, and the successful extension of the SC Abandoned Buildings Revitalization Act.

The legislative team routinely stresses that achievements require patiently planting seeds. At the 2019 Hometown Legislative Action Day, Melissa Carter noted that “our work here is a marathon. Unfortunately, we never get to sprint in this business,” while Tiger Wells likened the process to planting bamboo, which can require watering for years before it shoots up. 

In a recent podcast, Scott Slatton had this to say about the usually quick progress seen with legislative initiatives at the beginning of the session: 

“The action that we’ve seen so far and the wins we’ve accumulated so far have been the result of work not just since prefiles took place in December. They’re the result of several years’ worth of work that our legislative team and our cities and towns — municipal officials and mayors and councils — have been laying over the last couple of years, not the last couple of months.” 

Even so, the team says their efforts are made easier by the steadfast development of a reputation of being “honest brokers of accurate information” and the growing involvement of local elected officials in the advocacy process. 

Follow Melissa Carter (@MelissaMuniSC), Scott Slatton (@ScottMuniSC) and Tiger Wells (@TigerMuniSC) on Twitter for updates.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Main Street South Carolina Training Looks at “Pilates of Place”

By Jenny Boulware, Main Street SC Manager

What do Pilates and downtown commercial districts have in common? 

Pilates is a form of physical fitness that emphasizes strength, flexibility and core conditioning. Downtowns are similar because they are the physical hearts of our communities — they are iconic and symbolic cores that require continual, purposeful care. 

Recognizing the importance of downtown cores, cities of all sizes are implementing plans to revitalize and continually strengthen them. This is what Irene Dumas Tyson, BOUDREAUX Associate and Director of Planning, calls “Pilates of Place.” One such “Pilates of Place” can be found in downtown Columbia along Sumter and Taylor streets. 

Photo credit: BOUDREAUX
At Main Street South Carolina’s recent First Quarter training session, participants visited BOUDREAUX and Hotel Trundle. BOUDREAUX, a local design firm, cobbled together three historic buildings totaling 35,000 square feet to create mixed-use space that includes a 41-room boutique hotel and offices. This lofty undertaking took advantage of every available financial incentive, including the Abandoned Buildings Revitalization Act, the Bailey Bill, tax credits and façade easements. This successful tax credit project exemplifies a unique approach to downtown development partnerships. 

To add strength upon strength, Hotel Trundle’s owners, Rita Patel and Marcus Munse, showcased the products of 50 local businesses in the hotel. The hotel highlights local artists, historic pressed tin ceilings and original wallpaper remnants in its eclectic design. 

Developing and implementing a shared vision for downtowns is critical to stimulating economic growth, creativity and activity. How are you strengthening your core?

Thursday, February 7, 2019

2019 Hometown Legislative Action Day targets Advocacy Initiatives, other bills

Hometown Legislative Action Day on February 5 and the Municipal Elected Officials Institute the next day brought together more than 530 people in Columbia. They came to push for solutions to hometown issues, and to learn from Municipal Association staff and a variety of guest speakers. 

At HLAD, Gov. Henry McMaster gave the keynote address, praising economic growth and development and calling for local officials to support his education reforms. He described his proposal for a $100 million Rural School District Economic Development Closing Fund to boost rural school districts with an eye toward improving local economies. 

“If we collaborate, if we communicate and cooperate, we can think big,” he said. “Remember, there’s no power in a small idea. Think big or go home.” 

Municipal Association Board of Directors President and Florence Councilmember Octavia Williams-Blake called attention to HLAD’s role of reminding legislators that “it is all of us, the municipal leaders, who are on the front lines of making government work for our residents. We are the ones who assume responsibility for everything from garbage pickup to wastewater treatment, parks and recreation and most important ensuring that our neighborhoods, community spaces and our citizens are safe.” 

Legislative Action 

Before attendees traveled to the State House to meet with their delegations, the Association’s legislative team gave an update on Advocacy Initiatives progress. 

As Melissa Carter, research and legislative liaison, described it, “in the last four weeks we have seen more progression and more energy [on the initiatives] than I have ever seen.”
The team emphasized that the individual efforts of cities and towns make a major difference in statewide pushes. The progress happening now is also the result of years of work, as Scott Slatton, legislative and public policy advocate, has said in a recent City Connect podcastThere are three Advocacy Initiatives: 
  • Flexibility with hospitality and accommodations tax revenue: Both the House (H3132) and Senate (S217) may allow cities and towns to use this revenue for flooding and drainage at tourist destinations. S217 has received the most progress. 
  • Local Government Fund predictability: H3137 would have the fund mimic the way the state budget is forecast, so that the fund will match the growth rate estimated for General Fund, up to 5 percent. 
  • Reducing wait times for new hires at the Criminal Justice Academy: Senate and House subcommittees are hearing from law enforcement agencies on budget requests. Reducing wait times could help increase the number of Academy graduates, which is critical at a time when more South Carolina police are leaving the profession than the Academy could replace with new graduates. 

The team also made note of some other bills: 
  • S227: This “zero millage bill” would allow municipalities without an operating millage to create one. 
  • S401: This would require entities that initiate transportation improvement projects to bear the cost of relocating water and sewer lines. 
  • S171 and H3833: The Municipal Tax Relief Act would give municipalities limited power to impose a sales tax through referendum. 
  • S7 and S386: These bills would increase the dollar amount limits placed on lawsuits filed against municipalities. 

Other sessions 

  • Florence Police Chief Allen Heidler, Conway Fire Chief and Emergency Manager Phillip Hendrick Jr. and Darlington Police Chief Kelvin Washington discussed the challenges of crisis communication and the importance of having a plan for the flow of information during a difficult situation. 
  • Kim Stenson, director of the SC Emergency Management Division, reviewed state and local responses to recent natural disasters, including steps local leaders can take to prepare for future disasters. 
  • SC Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel discussed the challenges of law enforcement recruitment and the need to incorporate more technology into recruitment and training. 

Municipal Elected Officials Institute of Government's 2019 Honor Roll 

The Honor Roll recognizes the city and town councils that can count all members of their sitting council as graduates of the MEO Institute. Following graduations at this February’s sessions, the Honor Roll includes these municipalities: 
  • Town of Blackville 
  • Town of Gray Court 
  • City of Greer 
  • Town of Hollywood 
  • City of Inman 
  • City of Lake City 
  • Town of Pendleton 
  • Town of Santee 
  • Town of Summerville 
  • City of Union 
  • City of Wellford