South Carolina’s annexation laws have prevented many cities from growing in an orderly fashion, even though urban areas are the driving force behind the state’s economy. In many cases the current annexation laws favor rural areas due to their longstanding domination in state politics, as well as support of property rights. A bill was introduced this year to reform the annexation laws, but did not go very far in the state legislature. The bill’s sponsor, State Representative Mandy Powers Norrell (D-Lancaster) said that support for the bill has been minimal and disorganized. “As far as the citizenry goes, I don’t think it’s on most people’s radars,” she said. “I don’t think most people are paying attention to this.” This is despite the fact that most residents live in urban areas, an increase from 48 percent in 1970 to 66 percent in 2010.
The consequences of no action to reform the annexation laws have led to issues such as:
- Developers on the edge of cities playing local governments against each other, as they seek favorable zoning and tax rates, often times to the detriment of surrounding areas. Mount Pleasant’s Carolina Park is a case in point. The developer received zoning from the county rather than the town of Mount Pleasant, and was willing to build its own sewer system. “It puts local governments in a weak position when it comes to managing and planning the growth of their community,” said Town Administrator Eric DeMoura. “Once you get 3 to 4 units per acre because you had to take that deal, that sets the development trend. The next one that comes, it’s going to be difficult to say, ‘No, you only get 2 units per acre.”
- Most mayors and city planners look at the bigger issue of annexing properties they already surround in order to close up so-called “doughnut holes” that exist in most of the state’s 271 cities and towns. Local municipalities grapple with inefficiencies as they deploy multiple garbage trucks, firetrucks or law enforcement cars to different properties on the same street.
- City residents usually fall into two camps: those that pay taxes for services and those that benefit without paying for city services. In Mount Pleasant for example, the town has a contract to provide police protection to all its unincorporated doughnut holes, but the county pays only $150,000 toward the $10 million cost. State Representative Norrell said “if someone’s house catches on fire and they’re in the enclave, and if you don’t send your fire department, it looks really bad. The reality is most municipalities do serve these enclaves even if they don’t get revenue from the taxpayers.”
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