HLAD speakers: Press for change

A small-town elected official can make a difference in the decisions that take place inside the S.C. State House. Just ask Wayne George.

Municipal Association Executive Director Wayne George
 Municipal Association of SC Executive Director Wayne George addresses municipal officials at the 2018 Hometown Legislative Action Day.

Years ago, he was the mayor of the City of Mullins when state lawmakers were debating changes to the Local Government Fund, recalled George, addressing nearly 500 municipal officials at the 2018 Hometown Legislative Action Day. So George called his representative, a member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, who happened to be on the House floor at the time.
"I told him about the importance of our Local Government Fund, explained a couple things," said George. "And he switched his vote that day."

George, who became the Municipal Association's executive director in January, has also been on the other side of the conversation, serving from 2012 to 2016 in the S.C. House of Representatives.
"When I was in the General Assembly, the first calls I returned were to my local elected officials," said George. "You bet I picked up my cellphone and called them back."
This year’s HLAD drew local officials from all corners of the state to learn about a variety of topics, such as the opioid epidemic, infrastructure funding and flexibility, the outlook for the Local Government Fund, changes to the state retirement system, the 2020 census count and the latest tax law that Congress passed.

Hometown Legislative Action Day legislative panel discussing the state retirement system
Rep. Todd Rutherford, D – Columbia; Inman Mayor Cornelius Huff; and Representatives Kirkman Finlay, R  Columbia; Mike Anthony, D  Union; and Mike Sottile, R  Isle of Palms, debate revenue options to shore up the state retirement system.

Flexibility for infrastructure
The Town of Edisto Beach has incurred repeated damage from storms in recent years, leading Mayor Jane Darby to wonder: Why not allow cities and towns to spend their accommodations and hospitality taxes the best way they see fit?

"We had hospitality and accommodations tax funds in accounts," said Darby, during a panel discussion with Rep. Craig Gagnon, R – Abbeville, moderated by Greer Mayor Rick Danner.
"However, that is so restricted that we could not put our town back together. How are you going to have visitors, which hospitality and accommodations taxes are intended for, if you can't get them there? And then you cannot sustain life for them while they are there."

She asked how the Legislature could give towns more latitude to make spending decisions.

Municipal officials visit their legislators at the State House
Municipal officials visit their legislators at the State House during the
2018 Hometown Legislative Action Day.

"I do agree that when we do have a disaster in different areas of the state, the state needs to step up and do those things that are necessary for our localities to have the flexibility," said Gagnon.

He emphasized that recovery decisions made on a local level are closest to the immediate needs, and that state legislators don't typically have detailed information about damage in individual towns.

"All we can do is say, 'Who do we depend on to give us the right information?' And it is the localities — the towns and cities — that are affected."

Darby urged attendees to advocate for two pieces of legislation:

  • S917 would allow revenue from state and local accommodations taxes and local hospitality taxes to be spent on flood control, damage repair and drainage improvements for tourism-related areas.
  • S945 would make it easier for local governments to use local tax collections on operations and management of tourism-related projects by lowering the yearly collection threshold from $900,000 to $750,000.

Opioids, such as fentanyl and oxycodone, continue to kill 91 people nationwide every day. 

A panel of experts — including Arnold Alier, EMS division director for the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control; Frank O'Neal, who supervises the Narcotics and Vice Section of the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division; and Todd Spradling, assistant special agent in charge for the Drug Enforcement Administration — revealed lessons and suggestions from combatting the crisis.
O'Neal urged local law enforcement to treat the scene of a fatal drug overdose like a murder scene.

"Go there. Interview people. Interview people at the time when everybody isstressed," he said, adding that during such moments, parents have been known to hand law enforcement officers the cellphone of the deceased individual and direct officials to the drug dealers' telephone numbers. O'Neal also urged HLAD attendees to support drug courts.