Friday, April 29, 2016

Be prepared - what cities need to know about Zika

With the recent emergence and rapid spread of the Zika virus abroad, government leaders at all levels have been working to understand the disease and how to prevent, detect and respond to it. Although no cases of local mosquito-borne transmission of the Zika virus have been confirmed in the United States, there have been dozens of travel-associated cases reported.
Chris Evans, public health entomologist with DHEC, briefed city managers today about the Zika threat. His power point is linked here along with a lot of other good local government resources.

Before 2015, Zika virus outbreaks occurred in areas of Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. In May 2015, Zika virus infections were reported in Brazil, and currently outbreaks are occurring in many countries in South America, Central America and the Caribbean. Cases also have been reported in U.S. territories.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Zika will continue to spread and it will be difficult to determine how and where the virus will appear over time.

Local government officials have a key role to play in preventing and responding to the threat of Zika through mosquito abatement and public education.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control recently convened a forum of state and local officials to discuss the Zika virus and resources available to local governments in recognition of their role as the front-line defense against the spread of any mosquito-borne viruses.

There's a great DHEC blog post here with details of forum.

Local officials should have mosquito control plans in place that, at a minimum, address abatement and public education. Mosquito control plans involve many municipal departments, including public works, code enforcement and communications, so it’s important elected officials and staff understand their respective roles.

While some cities and towns have their own mosquito abatement plans to destroy mosquito breeding areas and spray pesticides, the best option for many may be to partner with their county government through intergovernmental agreements for mosquito abatement, particularly spraying.

Also, code enforcement can play an important role in abatement efforts. Cities and towns should have and enforce local ordinances aimed at cleaning up properties that harbor mosquito breeding areas. Anything that can hold even an ounce of water is a potential mosquito breeding area. Unkempt properties are prime mosquito breeding areas that local officials can address through code enforcement ordinances.

Educating the public about the dangers of mosquito-borne illness should be an integral part of any mosquito abatement plan. Public information efforts about the virus and how to stop its spread are prime opportunities for local officials to use all available communication tools, including social media.

Multiple resources are available to help officials develop and implement local mosquito control plans. SCDHEC, Clemson University’s Department of Pesticide Regulation, the SC Mosquito Control Association and the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health all offer valuable information.

More information and links to resources are available at (keyword: mosquito abatement). Plus there will be a session at the Annual Meeting focusing on this topic.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

FOIA update: executive session action on agenda

Listen to the City Quick Connect podcast interview with the Association's Tiger Wells answering questions about this recent ruling.

The SC Supreme Court recently ruled in the case of Brock v Town of Mount Pleasant regarding executive sessions. Brock alleged the town violated the Freedom of Information Act by listing an executive session on its agenda but not indicating council would take action after the executive session.

This ruling indicates a public body, after exiting executive session, may only take action on a matter discussed during the closed session if the agenda acknowledges the possibility of that action.

The following statement should be included on the agenda after an executive session listed on the agenda: “Council may take action on matters discussed in executive session.” 

In light of the changes that were made to the FOIA law’s notice provisions in 2015 following the Lambries case, this rule also likely applies when a regular or special meeting agenda is amended to add an executive session regarding a topic that was not included on the agenda published prior to the meeting.

The Association's Tiger Wells discusses this ruling and answers questions on the City Quick Connect podcast. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Annexation bill on deck this week

Earlier this year, South Carolina Representative Mary Tinkler (D-Charleston) introduced the Local Government Efficiency Act in the General Assembly. If passed, H4834 would allow cities and towns to annex enclaves into their municipal limits. Enclaves are properties that are completely surrounded by a city but not within the municipal limits. 

This bill is scheduled for a hearing on April 13 at 9:30 a.m. in the Special Laws Subcommittee of House Judiciary chaired by Rep. Jenny Horne.

“The bill‘s sponsors—eight Republicans and four Democrats—clearly show that the challenges posed by enclaves are not partisan,” said Scott Slatton, the Association’s legislative and public policy advocate.

Bill cosponsor Representative Kit Spires (R-Lexington) expressed his desire to reduce enclaves after hearing from Pelion Mayor Barbara Smith-Carey about the issues her town faces when dealing with enclaves.

Mayor Smith-Carey cited three reasons why it’s important to her to bring enclave properties into her town: keeping enclave residents safe with town police protections, protecting property values through code enforcement and equity among residents who receive town services. 

“I support all efforts to encourage efficiency within government,” explained Representative Neil Collins (R-Pickens), another cosponsor. “I applaud Representative Tinkler and H4834’s intent to allow municipalities to better offer public services to their areas.” 

Enclaves create irregular borders and pockets of unincorporated areas that lead to confusion about which properties are in or out of a city. That confusion leads to delayed or inefficient delivery of services from the mundane like trash collection to potentially life-saving services like police and fire. 

The Local Government Efficiency Act would allow a city council to annex, by ordinance, properties of 25 acres or less that have been surrounded by the city for five years or more.

The 25-acre threshold was determined after Association staff consulted with city and town managers and administrators from across the state. They indicated that the bulk of their city’s enclaves were 25 acres or less and that those enclaves were the greatest challenges to efficient service delivery.

If the proposed Local Government Efficiency Act becomes law, the city must notify owners of the enclave properties proposed for annexation of the city’s intention to annex their property. The city must also hold a public hearing conducted at least 30 days before first reading of the ordinance to annex.

The notice provisions in the bill are consistent with those in current law dealing with municipal incorporation, zoning and other land use measures.

Learn more about enclave annexation here.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Summertime is calling...parks take center stage

Summer is just around the corner and that means activities in our city parks and recreation facilities ramp up. The April Uptown is full of great information about new things going in city recreation programs. 

From handicapped-accessible playground equipment to miracle fields that let disabled children play organized baseball to beach accesses wide enough for wheelchairs, the April Uptown spotlights efforts in Hartsville, Greer, Summerville, Myrtle Beach, Mauldin and Mount Pleasant to make park facilities more accessible to handicapped residents. 

While active parks such as playgrounds and ball fields may offer the most obvious physical benefits, passive parks, with their benches, trails or greenspace, also play an important role in the community’s well-being. The April Uptown also features diverse passive parks in Greenville, Walterboro and Charleston.

Rock Hill
Gone are the days when public parks consisted solely of some children’s swings and slides. New sports options such as Quiddich, ultimate frisbee and disc golf increase options for participation in city rec programs. Find out how Rock Hill, Conway, North Myrtle Beach and Barnwell are offering a wide variety of programming to attract everyone from youngsters to senior citizens. Read also about the growth of sports tourism in Rock Hill.

While these diverse parks and recreational facilities mean more opportunities for residents, they also increase the potential for injury and liability claims. Read about what city officials need to know to evaluate all risks to reduce potential liability. 

Finally, read about what Education Superintendent Molly Spearman told local officials at Hometown Legislative Action Day about the great potential for city parks to partner with their local schools for strong after-school and summer programs.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

SC Day of Service: May 21

By Tiger Wells, Government Affairs Liaison

South Carolina had quite a year in 2015. Our state faced unparalleled tragedies, yes. But our state also demonstrated to the world what it looks like when communities can pull together across the historical lines that divide. In short, South Carolinians shined through service.

As a member of the 2016 Leadership South Carolina class, I was so pleased when our group was asked to come up with a project aimed at improving the way South Carolina is viewed internally. We decided that a project promoting unity through service would be appropriate. We know that when people serve together they not only forge and strengthen enduring bonds, but they also improve the way they feel about their community in the process.

The 2016 class of Leadership South Carolina has worked with the General Assembly and Governor Haley to establish May 21, 2016, as the inaugural “South Carolina Day of Service.”  This will be an ongoing observance for all South Carolinians to roll up their sleeves and serve a worthy cause.

Local officials can be an important part of this effort. Councils can adopt a resolution acknowledging “South Carolina Day of Service”(get a sample resolution here).

Municipal leaders can encourage residents to join in and add their act of service to the statewide service going on that day. If they like, cities can offer specific local projects on May 21.

The service performed on May 21 doesn’t have to be anything grand, although it can be. It can be something relatively easy like taking food to someone who is sick or mowing a neighbor’s grass. Or it can be something more involved like participating in one of the many ongoing recovery projects stemming from last October’s flood. Regardless, everyone can do something.

It’s easy to participate. Link here to get more information about how you can get involved.

The hope is that through such service our communities might become closer, South Carolinians might then view our state in a more positive light, and that light may then be seen by those outside of our state, as it was in 2015. Dum spiro, spero.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Greenwood Shows its Stuff

The City of Greenwood rolled out the red carpet welcoming a group of mayors for a day-long tour showing off downtown, touting relationships with local organizations and sharing economic development successes.

The day kicked off in the newly refurbished Inn on the Square with Greenwood City Manager Charlie Barrineau briefing mayors from around the state about the rebirth of downtown, city events, relationships with Greenwood County and plans for the future.

Charlie told the group about how, in the 1970s, a rail line ran through the middle of downtown. There was little in the way of retail, restaurants, housing and entertainment to attract people to the area. Today, thanks to a long-range master plan, the rail line is gone, plants and trees abound, restaurants thrive, retail is growing and people are moving in.

Charlie talked with the mayors about the events the city hosts over the course of the year to attract people downtown. Flowers and foliage are one focus city leaders identified as a draw to the city. The Annual Festival of Flowers every summer brings thousands downtown and features 40 life sized topiaries ranging from a Gamecock and a Tiger to a giraffe and a horse

“We don’t have a beach or a mountain, but we do have these unique topiaries that bring thousands of people here,” Charlie explained when talking about why the city invests in growing and maintaining these topiaries and other plants in its own greenhouse.

The Festival of BBQ every July is another huge draw to downtown. “With Carolina Pride as one of our big corporate leaders in town, we sure better have one of the biggest BBQ festivals in the state,” Charlie said. There's also a Carolina Pride pig among the collection of topiary characters.

Arts Center
The city also focused on creating a concentration of arts and cultural facilities downtown. An arts center located in the former post office, a reclaimed movie theater that’s now a theater for plays and other live events, and a museum of local history anchor a single block in the middle of downtown. Charlie said these arts groups always coordinate events to ensure maximum participation.

When asked about how the city promotes the many events downtown, Charlie touted the value of social media. He ticked off the several dozen Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages plus the YouTube channel he manages for the city and various venues and events.

Mayors also got a windshield tour of downtown to see the new farmers market, refurbished downtown facades, the Greenwood Genetics Center, Lander’s athletic fields and the city greenhouse.

Throughout the day, Charlie fielded questions from the mayors who were curious about everything from the funding sources Greenwood used for infrastructure improvements to how long it takes to keep up with all the social media outreach.
Newberry Mayor Foster Senn noted at the end of the day, “I can get so much out of visiting another city, talking to other mayors and learning from others’ successes on these city tours.”

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Quick Q&A about H5109

Listen to the podcast interview with Scott Slatton and Melissa Carter answering questions about H5109.

Rep. Kenny Bingham (R-Lexington) introduced H5109, the Business License Tax Standardization Act, last week to streamline the processes for businesses to pay their business license tax. Read more about the background on H5109.

Here are a few quick Q&As on some of the details of the bill: 

What is the standard business license class schedule?
The standard business license class schedule has been in existence since the 1970s in South Carolina. The schedule groups business sectors into classifications using the North American Industry Classification System based on IRS profitability statistics.

The schedule doesn’t address tax rates. Each individual city council assigns a tax rate to each classification.

At the request of the business community, H5109 requires every city to update its class schedule every even year based on the Association’s published schedule. This ensures that businesses are assigned to the same class regardless of the city in which they operate.

The Municipal Association has been updating this class schedule based on the IRS statistics annually for many years as a service to its member cities. H5109 requires the Association to continue doing what it has voluntarily long been doing. 

What is the North American Industry Classification System?

NAICS (pronounced Nakes) was developed as the standard for use by Federal agencies classifying business sectors for the collection, analysis and publication of statistical data related to the business climate of the country. 

How does a standard application work?

A standard application has been available to cities to use voluntarily since 2014. It was established at the request of businesses to make the process of renewing a license more streamlined. Currently 90+ cities already accept the application. H5109 requires all cities and towns to accept the application so businesses don't have to complete multiple forms if they do work in multiple cities.

Listen to the City Quick Connect podcast interview with the Association's advocacy team answering questions about H5109.


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Business-friendly bill introduced

Businesses in South Carolina would find it easier to renew their business license because of legislation introduced this week.

The SC Business License Tax Standardization Act (H 5109) is intended to make doing business with cities and towns easier by streamlining the process of renewing business licenses. This bill meets the goal of the business community to standardize practices across the state and the goal of cities to be more business-friendly. Representative Kenny Bingham (R-Lexington) is the primary sponsor of the bill.

The Municipal Association of South Carolina has been working since last year  with representatives of the business community to identify solutions and draft a bill to make the licensing process more streamlined across all cities and towns. A task force of 15 business licensing professionals has also been involved in working on this legislation.

“We certainly understand the frustrations expressed by the business community when they point to the wide variety of processes across cities and towns in South Carolina related to renewing a business license,” said Miriam Hair, executive director of the Municipal Association. “Imagine a landscaper working in multiple cities. He may be dealing with a variety of business licensing processes, forms and due dates in each jurisdiction. This legislation standardizes these processes and makes available a payment portal for businesses to pay the tax to multiple cities and towns at one time.”

Highlights of the legislation include:

Due Date
  • The business license year will be the same for all cities so businesses with locations in multiple cities do not have to keep track of the varying dates. A penalty will not be applied until April 30 after the federal tax return is due. 
  • The process for construction projects remains the same - the license is issued on individual construction projects rather than on an annual basis.
  • Businesses may use the same standardized business license application in all cities. Cities must accept the application.          
Definition of gross and calculation 
  • Business license taxes in all cities will be calculated using the same definition of gross income. This simplifies the accounting for businesses since every city will use the same methodology.
Business license class schedule
  • Cities will adopt a standardized business class schedule that is based on the profitability of business sectors as calculated by using IRS statistics. Therefore, businesses that operate in multiple cities will always be in the same class. 
  • Each city council will continue to set the business license rate for each class of business in their city.
  • A central portal will allow businesses to renew multiple business licenses online at one time. The portal is in addition to the current options for renewal. Businesses can mail the renewal, go in person to city hall or use the centralized portal.
Revenue neutral 
  • Cities cannot receive a revenue windfall following the first year of the bill’s implementation.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Let the Sunshine In...It's Sunshine Week!

It’s Sunshine Week…a great time for city officials to focus on making sure they are doing all they can to ensure open government. Sunshine Week is sponsored by the newspaper industry nationwide every year to shine light on open government practices.

There’s an article in this month’s Uptown with suggestions cities can use to make sure they are up to date on recent changes regarding the Freedom of Information Act. 

Recent actions by the General Assembly and the SC Supreme Court have significantly changed meeting notice requirements, mandated agendas for all meetings of public bodies, established new procedures for adding items to an agenda and clarified the required procedure to enter executive session.

Two of the best resources cities can use as resource for complying with legal requirements is the Press Association's "Public Official’s Guide to Compliance with the Freedom of Information Act" and the Municipal Association’s website.