AIKEN -- For a group of Gem Lakes homeowners, the Aiken City Council's decision to annex a section of properties from the subdivision into the city was both a small victory and an assurance that a wastewater contamination problem plaguing the neighborhood soon will be resolved.
In a 6-1 vote, city council members agreed to annex 288 properties into the city after reading a resident-circulated petition that asked city leaders to purchase the subdivision's sewer system, which state regulators say repeatedly polluted nearby ponds with wastewater.
But the deal might not be finalized for several months because the issue won't come before city council members for a second reading until city administrators hash out a purchase price for the sewage system with the sewer provider, South Carolina Utilities Inc.
The estimated price tag for the sewage system is $600,000 to $700,000, and Gem Lakes residents would be obligated to repay the city through a monthly fee that would range from $18 to $22 over a 10-year period.
The council stopped short of annexing the remaining 46 properties in the community that are currently served by the sewer company because those Gem Lakes homeowners emphatically oppose it.
City council members opted to allow voluntary annexation even though a state law allows the council to annex all properties in a contiguous area if at least 75 percent of landowners sign a petition in favor of annexation.
About 86 percent of the Gem Lakes homeowners who are served by South Carolina Utilities support annexation mostly because it would give them the opportunity to vote in favor of the city purchase of the sewer system. A citywide referendum is a condition of the purchase.
But a small bloc of residents from the community oppose it, saying they don't like the prospect of paying extra taxes without any guarantee that the city would take control of the sewer system.
"What would happen if the city is not actually able to gain the sewer system?" Gem Lakes resident Malcolm Kyle asked council members. "What happens if Gem Lakes is annexed with the city voting not to purchase the sewer system? Then here we are, paying higher rates and city taxes."
Gem Lakes homeowner Karen Skiff had other objections to the annexation.
"I use my own water and septic, and right now, I wouldn't be getting enough service to warrant annexation," she said.
Though most council members agreed with annexation opponents, city planning commission members rejected the idea of partial annexation last month because it would leave city-governed properties scattered throughout the community instead of creating a contiguous tract of land.
Councilman Pat Cunning voted against the partial annexation ordinance, saying the arrangement would complicate the jobs of public safety workers.
Reach Krista Zilizi at (803) 648-1395. ext. 106, or firstname.lastname@example.org.