With the 2015 legislative session only a month away, cities and towns are ready. Since early fall, more than 350 municipal officials at ten Regional Advocacy Meetings voiced their concerns about challenges facing their hometowns.
These meetings were the backbone to identifying the advocacy initiatives the Association will pursue for the 2015 legislative session. Through this process, municipal officials worked with Association staff to identify issues at the local level that can be solved through a comprehensive approach that may include legislation, training, research and collaboration with stakeholders, or a combination of all four.
After the regional meetings, the Association's legislative committee met to make recommendations for the legislative initiatives to the board of directors. The Association will roll out its final package of 2015 initiatives in the January issue of Uptown.
Scott Slatton, the Association's legislative and public policy advocate, has been traveling the state for the past year talking to local officials and staff about important issues at the municipal level. Many of the issues were echoed by attendees during the regional meetings.
Municipal officials overwhelmingly said they need help with abandoned properties, training for code enforcement officers who deal with the properties and clearing blight in their communities.
Officials also discussed the importance of ensuring open government through published agendas for every meeting.
Gary Parker, Town Administrator, Town of Blythewood
Repairing the state's crumbling infra- structure was another top priority of municipal officials. Accountability at the state Department of Transportation and dedicated funding for road repair and maintenance were two main topics that came up at every meeting.
Closing donut holes through enclave annexation was an issue for many cities and towns, as was maintaining the ability to levy a business license tax to fund services.
Municipal officials also discussed the need for consistent funding of the Local Government Fund. When asked what they use these dollars to support, municipal officials had a long list that included providing services and protection to residents. Police and fire protection, parks and recreation, infrastructure and stormwater runoff, and planning and zoning were just a few.
More than 25 legislators joined local officials at the regional meetings this year. They were able to give helpful insight into the issues they anticipate will take priority in 2015. Transportation almost always topped that list.
A common theme echoed from the legislators was the importance of hearing from local officials back home on important issues. The legislators gave the Association's lobbying team high marks for their work at the State House; however, they stressed it's even more important to hear from local officials about the direct effect of legislation to their communities.
"Every good football team has to excel in both offense and defense," said Association Executive Director Miriam Hair. "While we plan our offensive strategy ahead of the session with proactive initiatives, there always comes a point where we find ourselves having to play defense. If legislation is introduced that keeps cities and towns from being able to protect and provide for residents, businesses and visitors, Association staff relies on local stories, facts, data and hometown strong voices to make our case in opposition to the legislation."
Miriam Hair, Executive Director
Municipal Association of SC