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.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Training teaches how to respond to an active shooter

With a rising number of active-shooter incidents, police departments aren't the only organizations undergoing training on how to respond. 
Cpl. David Spivey with the S.C. Department of Public Safety recently trained the whole Municipal Association staff and made presentations to the Association of SC Mayors and the Municipal Clerk Treasurers Association.

There were 20 active-shooter incidents in 2015 and 2014, up three from 2013, according to the FBI. The agency defines “active shooter” as one or more individual with a firearm actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area.

Although it’s impossible to plan for every conceivable threat scenario, Spivey  said an organization’s employee buy-in is the key.

“Your employees have to understand what you’re trying to accomplish,” Spivey said. “They are there every day and they see the vulnerabilities. They know what needs to be looked at. They know when they feel unsafe and where they feel unsafe. Management and planning departments needs to talk with those individuals.”

How do you respond to an active shooter?

Spivey said there's no set way to respond to an active shooter. "Do whatever you need to do be safe."
  • Announce “active shooter” or other emergency using plain language. Do not use code words.
  • When a lockdown is announced, tell this to other employees in a clear, calm voice. Include temporary workers, custodial and others in the building. Do not allow re-entry to the building.
  • Run — Get away from the attacker fast. Do not stop to remove injured victims or to gather personal belongings. Keep your hands visible and at eye level as you exit the building.
  • Hide — Deny access. Take cover in a locked room. Turn off all lights and silence cell phones. Barricade the door with heavy objects. Stay away from windows and doors. Stay quiet.
  • Do not duck and cover 
  • Follow all police instructions immediately.
  • Fight — Defend yourself at all costs. Use what you have in the room to protect yourself - a stapler, a pen, computer monitor, fire extinguisher. Swarm the attacker. "All it takes is one brave soul," said Cpl Spivey. Throw things at the attacker's head. 
  • Call 911 Have one person call the police. Don't tie up the dispatcher with multiple calls. Provide an accurate description and specific location. Point out any suspicious devices or explosives.
Above all, Spivey said, "Have a plan. Then have another plan. Don't be scared to do something."
Demonstrating swarming an attacker
Spivey suggested having employees watch this video to learn the basics of being prepared for an active shooter.