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Attempt to Incorporate JOHN'S Island

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Residents seeking formation of  town of John's Island

People on Johns Island say it’s time to form a town, just like James Island did a few years ago.

And the logic is the same: to get away from being governed by Charleston and to map out the area’s future.

A duo leading an effort to incorporate portions of Johns Island as a municipal government made headway this week by raising $2,000 to retain an attorney and certify mapping of what would be the new municipality. 

Thomas Legare and Bill Saunders formed “Concerned Citizens of Johns Island” eight years ago.

The chief complaint is rampant development on the island — still a concern — and a feeling that island residents were underrepresented on local government boards like the Charleston County Council.

Other factors include development that has brought more people to the island, and with it a need for more police and sheriff’s deputies, along with ongoing concerns about flooding.

Legare is a lifelong resident of Johns Island and a ninth-generation farmer of his family’s 300-acre farm. He’s run unsuccessful bids for County Council.

“It’s a huge area geographically and population has skyrocketed,” Legare said. “We need more officers over here and we need our own planning and zoning.” 

Others on the island support the idea.

Randall Horres said his family has owned his farm off Main Road the last 40 years and it hasn’t seen flooding until the land around him started to become developed. He said he’s frustrated because he feels that no matter how many times residents reach out to the city or county their voices aren’t heard. 

Legare and Horres said they plan to meet with attorney Trent Kernodle next week. Kernodle was involved in the 20-year effort to incorporate James Island, which took four attempts and was fueled by growing animosity between James Islanders and Charleston City Hall in a protracted fight that went to the courts.

James Island has had a town government since 2012, when Charleston city leaders finally backed down.

For Johns Island to take that path, the first step is to have a certified geographic information system mapping of the area with an overlay of what areas are in the county or in the city of Charleston and towns of Kiawah and Hollywood.

There’s nitty-gritty details that need to be ironed out, too, since the lines would have to be so many miles away from the ocean and population density needs to be taken into account, too.

Kernodle said the effort on Johns Island needs to make sure it proves the town is contiguous for the 8,000 residents in the unincorporated area. 

“Once you satisfy contiguity and the population density figures then you have to stitch it all together,” Kernodle said. 

Leaders will have to define what services the town would oversee and get signatures for a petition.

 

The new town must make sure that the same level of fire service is provided, Kernodle said. Then the group would have to compile a feasibility study about why they want a town and how it would work, include a proposed budget and organization charts. 

“This is a monumental, years-in-the-making, lots of volunteers, lots of expense effort,” Kernodle said. “The biggest key is the people who have a fire and are on fire to get this done. ... If you don’t have that fire in your belly it could roll around for years and years and years.” 

There’s other things the group needs to consider that is outside of their control: how much of a fight the city will put up, the review from legislative committees and approval from the Secretary of State.

“If everything turns along really well it could take as little as a year, but because stuff requires certain notice periods for elections, challenges and other things it could easily take two years.”

Whether and how much opposition there is to the move is to be determined. Charleston County Councilwoman Anna B. Johnson, who represents that area, did not respond to a phone call, text message or email seeking comment.

Charleston County Council Chairman Elliott Summey said the county works with all municipalities “whether it’s a lot or a few, island, rural, urban.”

The formation of a town isn’t expected to impact tax revenue for the county.

A spokesman for Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg said the city will continue to make strides to address flooding and traffic. 

“In the meantime, we look forward to learning more about this new plan as it develops,” city spokesman Jack O’Toole said.

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