Some Columbia County residents living near Harlem and Grovetown could eventually become in-town residents.
Leaders in both communities say they're considering expanding their city limits while the county puts its consolidation plan on a back-burner.
"We'll vigorously annex all the property that we can between now and the time that they bring up consolidation again, that's for sure," Grovetown Mayor Dennis Trudeau said, referring to the process through which nearby landowners can agree to become part of one of the county's two incorporated cities.
Officials say Grovetown is probably the most aggressive in its approach to annexing.
"They've got their city limit sign on wheels," joked Harlem Mayor Scott Dean. "I mean they are annexing."
Ultimately, officials in both Columbia County towns say annexing to enlarge a city's boundaries gives a city more clout. Mr. Dean said an area can be annexed if 100 percent of the landowners are in agreement or if there is a 60 percent approval, representing 60 percent of the acreage of the area in question.
City leaders say one benefit to joining a city is that, in many cases, its services are dispatched from a location closer to homes than the county provides near the cities. City officials also say city taxes pay for such services as garbage pickup, which is offered in the county only through private enterprise.
When a county consolidation proposal was presented more than a year ago, city leaders said they feared consolidation would landlock their boundaries and prevent future growth.
These days, consolidation remains on the county's to-do list, but Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross says it isn't on the immediate horizon.
"I guess the best description is that (consolidation) is long range, and that could be anywhere from 10 to 12 months to two or three years," he said.
Mr. Trudeau said he feels consolidation talk won't be forthcoming for a long while.
"I really think it will be some time before they bring back consolidation," he said. "The legislative people may have to change."
In the meantime, Mr. Dean said annexing more land into his city boundaries will be time-consuming.
"We're still working at it. It's slow," he said. "We're picking up a piece here, a piece there."
Mr. Dean said that about a year ago, his city annexed a landowner's property that included several hundred acres of mostly farmland.
"There were a lot of parcels and probably a 12 percent increase in the city's size just with their property," he said.
In 2006, he said the city annexed some parcels off Knox Road and about 51 acres in a new subdivision called Cornerstone Creek. He said city officials are working on a possible annexation of about 60 more acres southwest of the city.
In Grovetown, Mr. Trudeau said his city has a focused area for its annexation plans.
"Right now, our annexation is going along the Harlem-Grovetown Road corridor," he said. "And we're on the other side of Euchee Creek now."
Mr. Trudeau said his city has an agreement with Harlem when it comes to its ever-changing boundaries.
"We've kind of gotten together with Harlem and we gave indication that if we do annex we would go no further than Louisville Road, and Harlem would come east to meet us.''
Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 868-1222, ext. 115, or firstname.lastname@example.org.