Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Changes to the Local Government Fund Considered

The Local Government Fund has been an important and stable source of local government revenue for almost 20 years. Since Fiscal Year 2010, the LGF has seen substantial reductions due to a shrinking state general fund and additional reductions imposed by the General Assembly.
   
In recent years, members of the General Assembly have been considering changes to the LGF and evaluating how the Local Government Fund is calculated for distribution to cities and counties.

Last fall, the Speaker of the House appointed an ad committee chaired by Rep. Leon Stavranakis to review the revenue needs of municipalities and counties, and modify the current funding methodology of the LGF. 


During its two meetings in late 2017, committee members heard testimony from Melissa Carter with the Municipal Association, other local government interests and Frank Rainwater, the state’s chief economist, to gather input about local government revenue and expenditure trends.

Last week, state budget hearings began with a Ways and Means subcommittee taking testimony about county and municipal requests for funding.

In the 2017 session, Rep. Russell Ott introduced H3099 that changes the formula to reflect the projected growth in the general fund.

Assuring the future of the LGF as a stable and reliable revenue source is one of the Municipal Association’s Advocacy Initiatives for 2018. At Hometown Legislative Action Day on February 6, hear from a panel of House members who will discuss proposals being considered to update the LGF formula.


Read From the Dome to your Home every Friday to keep up with the debate surrounding changes in the LGF. Learn more about the history of the LGF.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Meet the Municipal Association's new executive director

The new executive director of the Municipal Association of South Carolina is Wayne George, a former mayor, city councilmember and state legislator. The Association represents the state's 271 cities and towns, providing training, advocacy at the state and federal levels, and programs that give local officials the tools they need to provide quality services.

There's something unique about serving in local government, says George. Working to improve quality of life at the city and town level is just different because you can quickly see the positive results. 

George was mayor of Mullins for 16 years after serving on city council from 1980 to 1988. "Generally, you can see light at the end of the tunnel. At the state level, sometimes you can't see things progressing as you'd like it to."

But, of course, it's not easy making decisions that affect the lives of your next-door neighbors and the people you see at church, the grocery store and your children's school.

Local governments, George said, "are sometimes not completely understood by the general public. But we are the government that's closest to the people."

George succeeds Miriam Hair who retired in December after 32 years with the Association, the last nine as executive director.

"Wayne's background in local government, experience at the State House, organizational experience as a successful business owner, and years of involvement with the Municipal Association on staff and on the board made him the ideal candidate for executive director," said Cayce Mayor Elise Partin, who chairs the Association's board. "His dedication to the strength of local government, which increases the strength of our state, will continue the positive difference the Association makes."

Before joining the Association, George had a career in insurance after founding his own company. He also worked in the Municipal Association's Risk Management Services division and as a field service representative for the Association from 2004 to 2010. Later, George represented parts of Dillon, Horry and Marion counties in the S.C. House of Representatives for two terms after his election in 2012.

George is particularly attuned to the challenges that rural cities and towns in South Carolina face. In 2004, then-Gov. Mark Sanford named him Rural Innovator of the Year for his idea to locate the Florence-Darlington Technical College satellite campus to downtown Mullins, his downtown revitalization efforts, and his support for the preservation of historic properties.

George attended Coastal Carolina University on a basketball scholarship and earned bachelor's degrees from Coastal Carolina and from Morris College. He founded The George Agency, raised three sons with his wife, Helen, and served on the Coastal Carolina University Board of Trustees from 2006 – 2012.

George says he's particularly looking forward to getting reacquainted with the many municipal officials he has known for years and meeting the new ones. He'll be busy. The November elections brought substantial changes in city halls across the state.

Together, in the Appalachian, Catawba, Central Midlands and Upper Savannah councils of governments, 54 cities had general elections, council seats had a turnover rate of 41 percent and mayoral seats had a turnover rate of 43 percent — 29 percent of councilmembers did not seek re-election, while 25 percent of mayors did not run again.

In the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester, Lowcountry, Lower Savannah, Waccamaw, Santee Lynches and Pee Dee councils of government, 86 cities and towns had general elections, resulting in a turnover rate of 31 percent for council seats and 33 percent for mayoral seats — 18 percent of councilmembers and 25 percent of mayors did not seek re-election.

But getting to know the hundreds of new and veteran public officials alike — from city halls to the S.C. State House — and across other statewide organizations is likely to be a pleasure for George, who says he has always worked well with residents from diverse groups. He recalled the best advice he's ever received about working with others, words from his parents.

"Always be fair."

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Congressional tax reform passes with impact on cities

After weeks of debate, the U.S. House and Senate reached an agreement on tax reform this week. 

South Carolina city officials immediately got engaged with contacting the state's Congressional delegation back in early November when the initial House bill was introduced. More than 40 Mayors quickly signed a letter to the delegation members pointing out the negative impact of several provisions of the bill.

According to information compiled by the National League Cities, the final bill is still a step back for cities and local decision-making, but did preserve several key revenue resources in the final conference report. 

Highlights are below. Get more detail from NLC's fact sheet
  • Publicly-Issued Municipal Bonds - preserved 
  • Private Activity Bonds - preserved
  • State and Local Tax Deduction - $10k cap on a combination of property taxes and either income OR sales taxes
  • Historic Tax Credit - preserves the credit for rehabilitation costs on certified historic structures, but repeals the 10 percent credit for non-certified buildings built before 1936.
    South Carolina Senators Scott and Graham were both leading advocates for preserving the Historic Tax Credit.
  • New Markets Tax Credit - preserved until authorization expires in two years
  • Advance Refunding Bonds - eliminates the tax exemption for interest earned on one-time refunding bonds. 

Monday, December 18, 2017

Municipal Association announces new executive director

The board of the Municipal Association of South Carolina has selected Wayne George to be the sixth executive director of the organization. George is the former mayor of Mullins where he also served on council and was the Municipal Association board president in 1996. He was on the staff of the Municipal Association for six years and later served in the S.C. House of Representatives for two terms.

“I am extremely excited by the opportunity to lead the Municipal Association of SC. It is humbling to be selected by the board of directors. The Association has such a great reputation providing excellent education, advocacy and programs for its members,” said George. “In cities and towns, you will find some of the strongest leaders. Municipal workers and elected officials are the backbone of our communities, and we look forward to working with them to improve the quality of life for all citizens of our state. In addition, you can expect us to build and grow our partnership with state and national elected officials.”

The Municipal Association represents the state’s 271 cities and towns by providing training, advocacy at the state and federal levels, and programs that give local officials the tools they need to provide quality services.

In June, then-Board President Bill Young, mayor of Walterboro, appointed a search committee consisting of the board’s executive committee, including Cayce Mayor Elise Partin, Florence Councilmember Octavia Williams-Blake, Mauldin Mayor Dennis Raines and Isle of Palms Mayor Dick Cronin; two past board presidents, Anderson Mayor Terence Roberts and Sumter Mayor Joe McElveen; and Orangeburg City Administrator John Yow, who serves on the Association’s board.

“Wayne’s background in local government, experience at the State House, organizational experience as a successful business owner and years of involvement with the Municipal Association on staff and on the board made him the ideal candidate for executive director,” said Partin. “His dedication to the strength of local government, which increases the strength of our state, will continue the positive difference the Association makes.” 

Miriam Hair, the Association’s current executive director, plans to retire at the end of 2017 with more than 32 years with the organization, the last nine as executive director.

“The search committee was fortunate to have a pool of very qualified candidates. It was important that the Association continue the established tradition of strong leadership in the executive director’s position,” said Yow. “Wayne George’s vast experience, proven track record and leadership skills will mesh well with the talented staff at the Association.”

George begins his new role on January 2.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Six more Tuesdays until the legislature reconvenes

By Casey Fields, manager for municipal advocacy

Only six more Tuesdays until the South Carolina General Assembly reconvenes for the second half of the 2017-2018 legislative session on January 9, 2018. During the summer and fall – even more so than in recent memory - legislators have been in and out of Columbia attending Senate and House hearings. 

Discussions on the V.C. Summer nuclear plant collapse have taken center stage. Other House subcommittees have held meetings on law enforcement and elections, and the House Ways and Means Local Government Fund Ad Hoc Study Committee has met twice.

For the 2018 session, the Municipal Association Legislative Committee and board of directors, with input from municipal officials who attended the Regional Advocacy Meetings, adopted the 2018 advocacy initiatives tackling issues from blight and business licensing to the Local Government Fund and enclave annexation.

Over the course of the Regional Advocacy Meetings in August and September, more than 300 municipal officials voiced their concerns about local issues. The cover story in the December Uptown outlines the 2018 advocacy initiatives in detail under the broader topics of encourage business growth and development, provide quality services, increase funding for law enforcement, expand funding sources for infrastructure, and reduce blight. Each broad topic is explained and then broken down into action items that specify legislative action that can help solve the broader issue.

We will be successful with these advocacy initiatives only if we work together.. There are several ways local officials can stay informed about issues at the State House impacting cities and towns.

Read the Friday From the Dome to Your Home for updates about what happened at State House that week, the Monday Uptown Update for any breaking news over the weekend and the monthly Uptown for in depth background on issues. Check with the legislative tracking system for specific bills and committee action and communicate with your legislative team at the Municipal Association regularly.

You all know how to do it. In fact, history shows that you are very good at it. Let’s work together this year to support positive, proactive legislation that helps local officials govern better, more efficiently, and provide better and more services to residents. Of course, we will also have to oppose legislation that harms cities and towns, and will fight furiously when that happens.

I look forward to working together to make cities and towns even better.


Monday, November 20, 2017

When you get George’s mail (but your name’s not George)

Have you ever bought a house? The amount of paperwork, headaches and hoops you go through all seem worth it in the end when you have the keys in your hand and walk through your front door. Then you check your mailbox, and you keep getting George’s mail. But George doesn’t live here anymore. George is long gone. So you write “return to sender, recipient no longer at this address” on the envelopes and pop them back in the mail.

It’s the same way for that election you just won or the job you just landed with your city or town. You don’t want George’s mail, either. So how do you get your information updated with the Municipal Association?

The Association has an extensive database where we house all of our contact information on local officials and municipal staff. The information is provided by elected officials and city staff creating a profile through our website (Member Login) or by municipal clerks updating and verifying the information annually through our online system called the Municipal Information Dashboard.

Every year around this time, municipal clerks (or their designee) are asked to review, update and verify their city's information, such as staff titles and changes in elected leadership, through the MID. 

How does that help you? 
  •  You no longer receive George’s mail. You are the proud occupant of your new role, so information meant for you goes to you, and your name is on it. 
  • When your role with the city is accurately recorded in the database, you receive information targeted specifically to your position.
  • The Association can send you information on training opportunities, registration information, and legal updates and background information on legislation important to local government. 
  • The database also houses information to be used in the online and print versions of the 2018 Municipal Officials and Legislative Directory, which provides easy access to key city demographic and contact information and names of elected officials and key municipal personnel
Municipal clerks received an email and letter in early November asking them to make updates by November 22 using the MID. While the MID can be accessed and updated throughout the year, it is important to update the information in November in preparation for the printed edition of the 2018 Municipal Officials and Legislative Directory.

To protect the integrity of the data, the ability to see, certify and change the municipality's information is restricted to the city clerk or a designated representative. For cities without a clerk, or if someone else should be designated to update the information, contact Ashleigh Hair at ahair@masc.sc or 803.933.1288.

The Municipal Association does not share or sell email addresses provided by local officials.


Friday, November 10, 2017

Mayors voice concerns about provisions of federal tax reform package impacting cities

In a letter to the state’s Congressional delegation, more than 40 South Carolina mayors voiced their concern about a number of the proposals in the tax reform package being debated on Capitol Hill this week.

While noting the importance of proposal not including the elimination of the deduction on municipal bond interest, the mayors, representing cities as large as Columbia and as small as Ulmer, pointed to six proposals in the package that would be universally harmful to the state’s cities and towns:


•    Eliminating the deduction for state income and local and state sales taxes;
•    Limiting the deduction for city and county property taxes above $10,000;
•    Eliminating the New Markets Tax Credit, the Historic Preservation Tax Credit and the Work Opportunity Tax Credit;
•    Eliminating advance refunding of municipal bonds, effective December 31, 2017;
•    Eliminating Clean Renewable Energy Bonds, Energy Conservation Bonds, Qualified Zone Academy Bonds, Build America Bonds and other tax credit bonds effective December 31, 2017; and
•    Eliminating private activity bonds, effective December 31, 2017.

In the letter, the mayors told delegation members “We recognize that our federal tax code is complex and in need of simplification. However we have serious concerns about Congress reducing the flexibility of a variety of funding options local officials must have in order to raise the revenues needed to meet our communities’ needs.”

Debate on the tax reform package will continue next week.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Congressional tax reform harmful to cities: Package on a very aggressive timeline

The tax reform package released in Congress on November 2 could be devastating to local governments, and it’s on a fast track. 

This proposal would cap local property tax deductions, eliminate key credits like the Historic Tax Credit, and eliminate the state and local sales and income deductions. The House leadership plans to begin hearings on this bill on Monday. 

Get details on the plan.

According to the National League of Cities, there is an aggressive timeline to get the bill through the House and Senate by the end of the year. It’s all hands on deck time for members of the South Carolina delegation to hear from local leaders about the huge impact this tax proposal would have on our cities and towns.

Proposed timeline

In the House: The Ways and Means Committee is expected to start considering tax reform Monday, November 6. The meeting is scheduled to last more than one day to accommodate member statements, amendments considered and voted, and then the vote to report the bill to the full House.

If the Ways and Means Committee approves tax reform legislation as anticipated, the full House is expected to consider the bill the week of Nov. 13.

In the Senate: The Senate Finance Committee is expected to consider its version of tax reform legislation the week of Nov. 13.

The Senate version is expected to have notable changes to the House version, likely being more "moderate" on several tax provisions and policy than the House bill. If the Senate committee approves the bill the week of Nov. 13, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he expects the full Senate to consider the bill before Thanksgiving.

If this time frame holds, that would leave December for the House and Senate to reconcile differences between the bills, and significant differences are expected. The goal would be to send a final tax reform bill to the president by the end of the calendar year.

Congressman Tom Rice is on the House Ways and Means Committee. Senator Tim Scott is on the Senate Finance Committee. Both of them need to hear from South Carolina leaders!

Questions: Contact Reba Campbell at rcampbell@masc.sc

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Ten cities receive economic developoment grants

Ten cities and towns across the state have received a Hometown Economic Development Grant from the Municipal Association of South Carolina.  

Cities ranging in population from 500 to 37,000 received grants. Anderson, Belton, Estill, Johnston, Lancaster, Landrum, McClellenville, Pickens, Spartanburg and West Columbia are this year’s grant recipients. 

The grants are to support economic development projects that will make a positive impact on the quality of life in their communities. The grant program also promotes and recognizes innovation in economic development practices.
 

Each municipality will receive $25,000 to implement a project ranging from community master plans and retail recruitment to downtown revitalization and tourism development.

The Municipal Association board of directors created this grant program two years ago to fund projects that will produce measurable results, can be maintained over time and illustrate best practices that can be replicated in other cities. Projects funded by the first round of grants awarded last year are already showing results.

Cities and towns receiving the grant must provide matching funds. Matching amounts, determined by a city’s population, will range from 5 percent to 15 percent of the grant award. Cities can use in-kind contributions or other grant funds as their match. Fifty-three municipalities applied for the grants.

An awards committee of former and current local government and state agency professionals evaluated the grant applications. Cities and towns receiving a grant must submit reports about the progress and successes of each grant-funded project and provide financial details of how the grant funds were used.

“These grants will help our cities and towns continue to strengthen their economic development efforts to attract and retain businesses in their downtowns and neighborhoods,” said Miriam Hair, executive director of the Municipal Association.


Get details about the projects and local contact information.

Friday, October 20, 2017

A snapshot of the state's growing drug epidemic



“There wasn’t a crack problem until there was a crack supply.” That somber statement led off SLED Major Frank O’Neal’s extensive presentation at the Municipal Association’s fall forum for city managers and administrators.

O’Neal briefed the managers on the growing epidemic of drug use in South Carolina. “Price, availability and tolerance have increased prescription drug use,” he said.

Highlights of O’Neal’s presentation included:

 ·       Examples of “pizza style" delivery of heroin where a user calls a dealer and the drug is dispatched for delivery as easily as ordering a pizza.


·       It’s impossible for law enforcement and policy makers to stay on top of all the variations of news drugs flooding the market.

·       Gathering data about where the drug incidents are occurring is critical because law enforcement can’t deploy resources without knowing exactly where the problems are.

·       A $6,000 - $7,000 investment in heroin creates revenue upwards of $80,000. This is a lucrative business.

·       Ninety-two percent of heroin users first use marijuana.

·       Fifty-seven percent of people who use heroin first used opioids.

·       Eighty percent of new heroin abusers were prescription drug users.

·       Availability of heroin increasing because of a reliable low-cost supply coming from Mexico.

“The number one thing we can do to combat this epidemic is educate our kids,” O’Neal stressed at the end of his presentation. “If we are quiet, this epidemic won't go away.”

Get O’Neal’s Power Point presentation that includes more details about the increasing problem of drug use in South Carolina.