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A Case for Changing SC's Annexation Laws


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The Special Purpose District lobby in South Carolina seems to be fairly strong, so I doubt that will go anywhere. It would be a very good thing for South Carolina cities though.  

It would be nice for SC's cities to stop looking like swiss cheese.

SC Supreme Court rules against Awendaw annexation The S.C. Supreme Court ruled this week

True, but this "return to the city" movement won't have nearly the same effect as a comprehensive annexation reform policy, especially since, from what I can see, new downtown housing tends to be unaffordable for middle class families. Catering to the affluent/upper middle class with new downtown residential developments as a way to somehow offest the disadvantages of a restrictive annexation policy isn't going to be a viable long term strategy for our cities (with the only possible exception being Charleston). It doesn't take the place of a reasonable annexation policy. And keep in mind that research campuses represent a long-term effort. It took RTP in NC 40-50 years to really take off.

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On the above commentary about Charlotte, I present this map. As we know the annexation laws in NC are vastly different from SC and because of that decades ago, these boundaries were set. Charlotte can never grow larger than what is shown here. Note the sections where it says Spheres of Influence. NC laws allow the city governments to zone development within these zones even if they are not yet part of the city. The county government no longer has any zoning control. (this was adopted in 1996)

I do agree that Charlotte has poorly used this authority to zone it's development. There are vast topics here on UP on this subject. Growth has been allowed of the worst sort. However in the Northern 1/5 of the county its a much different story. The towns around Lake Norman have done a much better job of this and some of these areas are the best in the Carolinas. The point of this is that if the laws are changed in SC to allow the same kind of control then its better for all.

(It should be noted that while NC does allow cross county line annexation Charlotte is an unusual case as it borders SC. It can't annex into SC, it's probably also impossible to annex across the western border due to the Catawba River and Lake Wylee. )

spheres01_smn2.gif

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I agree.

I don't know that there is any law preventing cities in SC from developing something similar to what Mecklenburg County has done. In fact, I could swear this has been done in some form in SC. For example, I know the City of Clemson and the Town of Central have an annexation agreement where each town has agreed not to annex past a set line. This is not as official as the ETJ concept though. I'll have to think about that one some more.

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^ Off topic, but Charlotte could hypothetically annex into Cabarrus or Union Counties (though Concord & Kannapolis have likely put the kibosh on entering Cabarrus).

Also, other counties in NC annexation agreements exist & have existed for years. If my memory is correct, around 1990 Gastonia had broken an annexation agreement with the neighboring Lake Wylie cities.

I too would like the ETJ concept in SC. As in Texas it is typically set at 2 or more miles outside the city, something similar could be a useful first step to reforming annexation laws in SC. Simply providing the city some say in how property develops outside the city's immediate border could encourage developers to go to the city first & not the county.

Edited by teshadoh
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Even a modest change in South Carolina's municipal annexation laws would give South Carolina cities some much needed leverage in the planning process. Better oversight, more coordinated city/county planning efforts, needless duplication of city and county services, and better quality control on new development are just a few of the results that could arise from SC cities having more power to annex. There are plenty areas outside of Greenville that are undeniably urban and by anyone's guess would be considered a part of the city of Greenville yet aren't due to restrictive annexation practices the proposed legislation that would clamp down on city "doughnut holes" would at least be a modest start.

Over all, our cities have all suffered. One need only look at any NC city to see what a more city-oriented government structure can do. However, I think that Charleston has aggressively annexed areas, and I would say it has captured a good deal of its suburban growth where it can. Columbia has done a poor job, but not as bad as Greenville and Spartanburg, who have not annexed any new growth at all by comparison.

I have noticed that Columbia, and Charleston particularly, have been more aggressive in capturing some of the surrounding growth, any particular reason behind this? I think there is more hostility to the idea of municipal annexation in the upstate but one would think that Greenville or Spartanburg would have at least made some modest annexations that would have tacked another 5,000 or 6,000 people to those census numbers. Any theories?

Edited by basket1058
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I have noticed that Columbia, and Charleston particularly, have been more aggressive in capturing some of the surrounding growth, any particular reason behind this? I think there is more hostility to the idea of municipal annexation in the upstate but one would think that Greenville or Spartanburg would have at least made some modest annexations that would have tacked another 5,000 or 6,000 people to those census numbers. Any theories?

It's not that Greenville hasn't annexed, but the land is mostly in the form of commercial property.

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And Columbia annexed into Lexington County and Cayce into Richland County. I wonder whether annexation just encourages sprawl, since it might make cities more lax about zoning for growth, taking the attitude that they'll just annex whatever new subdivision pops up, no matter how willy-nilly the pop-up pattern is. I like the idea of relying more on infill than on annexing into the far reaches. Housing at all price points can be created in the inner city. It just takes the will to make sure that gets done. That's not to say I'm going to complain about adding population and tax revenue through annexation.

Edited by CorgiMatt
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Even a modest change in South Carolina's municipal annexation laws would give South Carolina cities some much needed leverage in the planning process. Better oversight, more coordinated city/county planning efforts, needless duplication of city and county services, and better quality control on new development are just a few of the results that could arise from SC cities having more power to annex. There are plenty areas outside of Greenville that are undeniably urban and by anyone's guess would be considered a part of the city of Greenville yet aren't due to restrictive annexation practices the proposed legislation that would clamp down on city "doughnut holes" would at least be a modest start.

I have noticed that Columbia, and Charleston particularly, have been more aggressive in capturing some of the surrounding growth, any particular reason behind this? I think there is more hostility to the idea of municipal annexation in the upstate but one would think that Greenville or Spartanburg would have at least made some modest annexations that would have tacked another 5,000 or 6,000 people to those census numbers. Any theories?

They used to annex more regularly, infact, Spartanburg made a very large number of annexations during the 1950s back when the population "goal" was 50,000.... that never panned out. During the 60s and 70s during the white flight era and desegregation the cities stopped annexing the suburbs which at that point were still close enough to be annexed. I suspect that the political party shift may have had something to do with it on top of the change in demographics that was occurring.

It's not that Greenville hasn't annexed, but the land is mostly in the form of commercial property.

The same is true for Spartanburg.

The main problem is that in the Upstate, Urban Service Districts are more prevalent than in other parts of the state in part due to the terrain (its more difficult to proved water service). So in many cases, the main reasons to annex (municipal services) are already provided by multiple quasi-governmental entities. These service districts DO exist in Charleston and Columbia but the Upstate is notoriously bad. Spartanburg County has something like 900+ service districts in some form or another. People pay for these in some way, it just not in the direct form of a "tax" or "fee." I'll dig around and check for the exact number. But that number in and of itself should be indicative of the waste of resources that is occurring by not having a more centralized form of local government.

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Annexation in its present form does not cause or not cause bad growth to occur. But the lack of zoning control in areas that will be annexed in the future does. This is why I presented the map above about "spheres of influence" or the more technical term preferred today, Extra Jurisdictional Territory (EJT). NC has allowed this since '96 in some counties and it gives municipalities ability to control growth in areas that it will eventually annex. Some cities such as Charlotte has not used this tool effectively, whereas places like Davidson, NC have used it to keep sprawl away from their town. For example, there are no Walmarts near this place.

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They used to annex more regularly, infact, Spartanburg made a very large number of annexations during the 1950s back when the population "goal" was 50,000.... that never panned out. During the 60s and 70s during the white flight era and desegregation the cities stopped annexing the suburbs which at that point were still close enough to be annexed. I suspect that the political party shift may have had something to do with it on top of the change in demographics that was occurring.

The same is true for Spartanburg.

The main problem is that in the Upstate, Urban Service Districts are more prevalent than in other parts of the state in part due to the terrain (its more difficult to proved water service). So in many cases, the main reasons to annex (municipal services) are already provided by multiple quasi-governmental entities. These service districts DO exist in Charleston and Columbia but the Upstate is notoriously bad. Spartanburg County has something like 900+ service districts in some form or another. People pay for these in some way, it just not in the direct form of a "tax" or "fee." I'll dig around and check for the exact number. But that number in and of itself should be indicative of the waste of resources that is occurring by not having a more centralized form of local government.

Thanks for the info there Spartan that certainly does help explain some of the differences.

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Ok, it seems I may have overshot that 900+ figure by a good margin. I am looking for a more accurate number, and where I got that 900 from since I know I didnt make that up. It doesn't change my point though. SPD's are a waste of resources. You pay for urban services in one way or another.

Here is a good editorial from The State regarding SPD's and annexation.

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I'm not familiar with property tax jurisdictions too much in SC - but perhaps the 900 figure comes from combination districts or tax code areas. That is when the multiple jurisdiction districts overlap one another creating those combination tax code areas. But still - nearly 1000 tax code areas does seem unlikely but it can occur in more populous counties counties (such as in CA).

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I had to laugh about the Lexington County resident talking about Lexington County tax dollars supporting Columbia. Lexington County would still be a rural backwater if not for its proximity to Columbia. Every day, thousands of Lexington County residents earn a better living in Columbia and use the city's parks, roads and other services which they contribute nothing towards. How about the bus system? Lexington County contributes nothing.

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There are by far more people who have moved to Lexington because its "nice and suburban" than there are people who moved to get away from Richland County. They accept a commute into Columbia because its still the social norm to drive for 45 minutes to work.

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Ok, it seems I may have overshot that 900+ figure by a good margin. I am looking for a more accurate number, and where I got that 900 from since I know I didnt make that up. It doesn't change my point though. SPD's are a waste of resources. You pay for urban services in one way or another.

I just checked & their are only 15 property tax jurisdictions (independent of city) - most are either school or water / sanitary districts in Spartanburg County.

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What is your source? I counted something closer to 58 bodies that tax or that you pay fees too (including municipalities, school districts, the county, water districts, sewer districts, fire districts, etc)

There are about 36 SPD's that are officially registered with the Secretary of State that are in a part of Spartanburg County. Most of them levy a tax. If you add in the 8 school districts (part of Greer goes to Gville schools), the 14 municipalities and the county, you get a lot of taxing authority out there.

The worst part of it is, SPD's are unaccountable to the public. You technically vote for them, but its really more of a rubber stamp process since nobody knows or understands anything about what Special Purpose Districts are for and nobody knows if that person actually does a good job or not.

SC Special Purpose Districts

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I think that because of the layout of Columbia, meaning the city proper and the adjacent municipalities, we should be the pilot city in South Carolina to convert to New York City's boroughs form of government. Cayce can be Queens, West Columbia can be Brooklyn (Brookland), Forest Acres can be the Bronx, Arcadia Lakes can be Staten Island, and Columbia can be Manhattan, each municipality keeping its current name, of course. None of the boroughs of NYC has sacrificed its identity or character as a result of the boroughs system, and each municipality has its own government. New York is very proud of its large population, and while on a local level they might give each other a hard time based on which borough they live in, on a national and world scale they are all New York.

Edited by CorgiMatt
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What is your source? I counted something closer to 58 bodies that tax or that you pay fees too (including municipalities, school districts, the county, water districts, sewer districts, fire districts, etc)

There are about 36 SPD's that are officially registered with the Secretary of State that are in a part of Spartanburg County. Most of them levy a tax. If you add in the 8 school districts (part of Greer goes to Gville schools), the 14 municipalities and the county, you get a lot of taxing authority out there.

The worst part of it is, SPD's are unaccountable to the public. You technically vote for them, but its really more of a rubber stamp process since nobody knows or understands anything about what Special Purpose Districts are for and nobody knows if that person actually does a good job or not.

SC Special Purpose Districts

Thanks for that resource - I'm sorry, but I can't divulge what my source is, but it is a national provider of local property tax data. Nonetheless, they are certainly missing data as you have pointed out (though it appears they combine the fire districts into a single county fire district code).

Regarding special districts - I mostly agree with you. Particularly from my perspective, they are too often governing agencies that can be very difficult to get a hold of. They are often just part time employees who are appointed by local politicians as a favor - they receive a tidy little salary for minimal work. That of course is the worst case, there are agencies that are very professional & essentially operate like an independent city. But again - with minimal over sight.

But at least SC isn't set up like NJ - ridiculously inefficient local government structure. Townships serve unincorporated county but operate the same as the city. Additionally, much of the same services provided by the city & county overlap those of the county. At least in most of the US - if you are unhappy about services you receive when you live outside of a city, annexation is an option. In NJ - you have very few options as you are already served by a municipal government (township) & you are unlikely to be able to be deannexed out of the township into a neighboring city.

Columbia would just be best served by a more powerful MPO or a similar COG that provides a uniform planning direction for the metro. I know officially that may already occur (not sure how powerful MPO powers are in SC) but at least in other states (such as GA) it is largely a joke that they have a real effect.

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  • 2 months later...

Here's an article in The State newspaper Here talking about how Columbia is moving to aggressively annex 20 unincorporated areas within the city limits through water service. Deleted. Please don't cut and paste newspaper articles on this site. It is in the rules

Edited by monsoon
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Here's an article in The State newspaper Here talking about how Columbia is moving to aggressively annex 20 unincorporated areas within the city limits through water service. Deleted. Please don't cut and paste newspaper articles on this site. It is in the rules

I read the article this morning. I think it's a great ideal!!! If you get the services provided by the city either you can get annex in with the city of Columbia or seek services else where. It's an awful lot of areas that get water,sanitation and police services but is not counted in the city population. I'm expecting to see the City of Columbia stretching it's boundaries soon :shades:

Edited by 803metlife
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