Originally created 09/09/04

Burnettown name change is just the beginning



BURNETTOWN - What's in a name?

It depends on whom you ask.

Tikisha Jackson doesn't think a new name will bring much change to Burnettown. But the resident said she'll vote to change the name of the 63-year-old town to Midland Valley when the city gauges resident opinion with an advisory referendum in November.

Sharon Gagnon said a new name can improve Burnettown's annexation prospects. It's a major reason why the Burnettown resident spearheaded a petition to rename the town Midland Valley.

However, Burnettown Mayor Wayne Benson said a new name will come at a price for the town and its 2,700 residents - higher taxes to expand basic government services such as police protection, water and sewer lines.

The matter has spiraled into a confusing and contentious debate mostly because the city is venturing into largely uncharted territory. So Burnettown council members are using the nonbinding referendum as a popularity poll to determine how much support exists among residents before they decide whether to change the town's name.

For residents like Ms. Jackson, this is a simple issue. A new name might improve the community's image.

"A lot of people ask where you're from, and if you say you're from Langley, Burnettown or Bath, they'll say, 'I wouldn't tell no one that,'" she said.

For Ms. Gagnon, the head of the Committee to Unite Midland Valley, renaming Burnettown is the first step in uniting an entire region of small communities. Unincorporated towns such as Stiefeltown, Warrenville, Gloverville, Graniteville, Clearwater, Langley and Bath, boasting a combined population of about 30,000 residents, would be more open to being annexed by Burnettown if it were known by the same name given to the local high school, shopping center and country club - Midland Valley.

"We're losing a lot of tax dollars by not being incorporated because we don't have the population to get the funding," she said. "We're already known as the Midland Valley area, anyway."

Although Mr. Benson acknowledges advantages exist in incorporating the Midland Valley, he's not sure a name change would inspire rapid growth.

"You've got people saying they would come into Burnettown if it were Midland Valley," he said. "That's like changing jackets. They will still have to go through the same process to annex into the city whether it's Burnettown or Midland Valley."

Often that annexation process is lengthy and complex because small regions that abut Burnettown have to be annexed one piece at a time.

"Right now, Warrenville couldn't annex into Burnettown," he said, noting that the two communities don't share a border. "And if someone ahead of you doesn't want it (annexation), they can stop it."

The incorporation process would take time and require a lot of money. That might prove a financial burden for Burnettown residents who have never paid city taxes in the only municipality in the state without a millage.

Burnettown funds its part-time police force and other services using franchise fees from businesses. Aiken County provides Burnettown with many services including animal control and parks and recreation.

Even Ms. Gagnon acknowledges changes won't take shape immediately if Burnettown becomes Midland Valley.

"What we're hoping for in the long range is that all the towns will eventually be under one name, but that's not in the foreseeable future," she said. "This is like the first baby step."

Reach Krista Zilizi at (803) 648-1395, ext. 106, or krista.zilizi@augustachronicle.com.