SC annexation reform boosters now plan for next round

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COLUMBIA -- One way to tell that a prickly issue won't be going away: Parties on either side argue their case tirelessly during a House subcommittee, even though the proposal at hand is obviously doomed.

Such was the case on Thursday, one day before the deadline for a bill to win one chamber's approval or be slapped with a much tougher standard for passage. A House subcommittee heard exhaustive testimony on H. 3253, which would change the way land is annexed in South Carolina.

Friday marked "Crossover Day," a critical legislative deadline for the S.C. General Assembly. Now bills still stuck in committees like Rep. Bill Herbkersman's proposal for annexation reform, will need a two-thirds vote for either the House or the Senate to consider a bill that was born in the other chamber. Lawmakers already hope to trim a few weeks from the legislative season and have said they could wrap up their business up by May 21.

But a furiously ticking clock isn't the only challenge facing the Bluffton Republican's bill.

Some groups, such as the S.C. Home Builders Association and the state Municipal Association, say Herbkersman's bill makes annexations needlessly difficult.

The S.C. Coastal Conservation League, however, praises his proposal as a tool to control sprawl and the inefficient transport of resources needed to accommodate it.

The bill calls for a number of changes, which would create stricter annexation standards, including:

- A municipality would have to release a plan explaining how it will extend sewer, trash collection and other services to the new area.

- The annexation could not clash with the comprehensive plans of the county and the annexing municipality.

- More people would qualify to challenge an annexation plan.

- Public hearings would be required for some proposals which currently don't require a hearing.

- Tighter definitions of qualifying land could limit "shoestring" annexations, in which far-flung land is incorporated by a thin strip connecting it to a municipality.

"We think this bill, as written, represents the comprehensive annexation reform that South Carolina needs," said Patrick Moore of the Coastal Conservation League.

Stalemate Part II

But Julian Barton, director of government relations for the Home Builders Association, disagreed.

"In general we have a pretty good annexation law in place here," he said.

"Our members are not always happy with the law, but generally it's worked pretty good. We need to look at the big picture."

The same issue came up last year but ended in a stalemate.

"I really would like to see some forward movement on this issue," said Rep. Thad Viers, R-Myrtle Beach, who chaired the subcommittee.

"One of the resources of South Carolina is our natural habitats. And I see in Myrtle Beach what has happened through rapid sprawling and urbanization. And I go down to Hilton Head and Beaufort and Pawley's Island, and I just see ... how beautiful God has given our state in the form of our natural resources."

Neighborhood strife

Annexation and incorporation have been sensitive topics across the state, as municipalities wrestle with growth, taxation, sprawl and community identity.

Aiken County has been no exception.

In August voters rejected a referendum to incorporate Graniteville, Vaucluse and Warrenville. The vote followed a heated and divisive campaign in which neighbors displayed clashing yard signs and questions swirled about who was financing the effort, their motives and how taxes would be affected.

Sarita Chourey can be reached at (803) 727-4257 or sarita.chourey@morris.com.


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