CHARLESTON, S.C. - Mary Clark calls herself the "mayor-in-exile" of the nonexistent Town of James Island, a community that twice has incorporated, twice been dissolved and where voters return to the polls today to consider creating a town for a third time.
"I call these people the last patriots in America. They have been fighting for self-determination, and they have been fighting for 14 years," Ms. Clark said Monday. "We gave up being a colony of the king, and we want to give up being a colony of Charleston."
The island on the edge of Charleston Harbor is a collection of subdivisions, shops and strip malls where the town government has twice been dissolved by the courts.
There are about 20,000 people in unincorporated areas of Charleston County that fall within the proposed town limits. Other areas on the island have been annexed into Charleston.
Ms. Clark expects as many as 8,000 people will vote today and that the referendum will carry by a wide margin. However, the matter will again head to the courts.
Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. has said his city will challenge any new incorporation, as it has twice in the past.
"All reasonable people know that the town is going to end up costing them much more than money," he has said, calling the proposed town "an added layer of bureaucracy that most James Islanders do not want or need."
In the first challenge in 1992, the courts ruled the town was illegally cobbled together by land connected by marshes and waterways owned by Charleston.
In 2000, legislators passed a law allowing waterways to be shared by municipalities for the purposes of incorporation and, two years later, residents voted by a 2-1 margin to again incorporate.
Then, the state Supreme Court dissolved the town agreeing with a lower court that using only tidal marshes and waterways - and not, for instance, parks or highways - to link areas for incorporation amounted to an arbitrary classification.
Under that law, the town needed to link areas containing at least 15,000 people to incorporate.
A new law passed by the Legislature last year would allow the town to incorporate with only 7,000 people and allows unconnected properties to be in the same town if separated only by water or certain public lands.
At issue is money and taxes - and control.
Proponents see incorporation as a way to check the expansion of Charleston on the island.
Opponents, including a group called the No New Town Task Force, argue taxes will increase as much as 37 percent for property owners.
Ms. Clark disputes that and says there was no tax increase when the town incorporated four years ago. She says taxes will be lower because town residents will receive back their full $1.4 million in local option sales tax - money now shared with other municipalities.
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