Unincorporated James Islanders: New legislation in the works

A photo of the front window at the Town of James Island building on Camp Road.
Photo by Sandra Stringer

by Sandra Stringer

State Representative Peter McCoy has filed annexation legislation in Columbia that would give voters in the unincorporated area of James Island a chance to vote on the issue of whether or not to officially become part of the Town of James Island.

A little background

As most of you probably know, parts of James Island are considered the Town of James Island, parts are unincorporated, and parts of considered City of Charleston.

The Town of James Island has gone through a lot of legal wrangling in order to exist. In 2012, for the 4th and hopefully last time, James Island became a town. The previous three times, lawsuits from the City of Charleston struck down the township.

Still, it’s a piecemeal arrangement. What the Town of James Island is hoping for now is to bring the unincorporated parts of the island, which are neither City of Charleston nor Town of James Island, into the Town fold, or at least give those in the unincorporated areas a chance to vote on their preference.

What does the town look like now?
Map of James Island showing areas that are unincorporated, are part of the Town of James Island, and part of the City of Charleston.
Map of James Island showing areas that are unincorporated, are part of the Town of James Island, and part of the City of Charleston. Click on the image to see larger version.

Take a look at the map here.

The areas in white are Charleston County but are unincorporated. These are the areas that could potentially become part of the Town of James Island. The grey areas are City of Charleston. The yellow areas are the current Town of James Island. It’s kind of hard to read, and if you’re unsure of which section you’re in, you can:

Go here, put in your address (street only, abbreviate DR or BLVD or ST or AV, so for example type in SMITH ST). If it says your jurisdiction is “County of Charleston”, then you are in the unincorporated area. If it says you are “City of Charleston” or “Town of James Island”, then you’re already part of one or the other.

Or you can call the Town of James Island at (843) 795-4141, give them your address, and find out your status.

What’s the difference to you?

Town of James Island signThe benefit of being part of the Town of James Island isn’t just a matter of civic pride. Residents of the Town of James Island can vote for town officials and have a say in development.

The Town of James Island works to build sidewalks and pave unimproved roads, and provides services at town hall, particularly zoning. They are working to include building services at the Town Hall. There is also a helping hand program, providing basic repairs on housing for Town of James Island residents in need.

City of Charleston has all of its own services of course, but it charges higher taxes than the Town of James Island. According to Bill Woolsey, Mayor of the Town of James Island, people in the incorporated area are currently paying James Island Public Service District taxes and sewer, the same as the people who are in the Town of James Island. Your taxes would not change, nor would the amount you pay for services, if you became part of the Town of James Island.

I’m just a Bill, I’m only a Bill…

State Representative Peter McCoy has filed annexation legislation in Columbia, House Bill 4076. Bill Woolsey wrote in a blog post:

“To become law, the bill must pass the South Carolina House and Senate and be signed by the Governor.

After it passes, the next step would be for the James Island Public Service District (JIPSD) Commissioners to vote for a resolution asking the Town to hold an annexation election for the unincorporated portion of the district.

Soon after,  an election would be held for those in the unincorporated area of the JIPSD.   This is almost entirely made up of areas that were in the Town in 2011 but are not in the Town now.   The voters in this area had no chance to vote in the Town’s incorporation election in 2012.

If the majority of voters in the unincorporated area of the JIPSD choose to annex, then the Town will be reunited.

I think it is especially important that people who live in areas that were in the Town and want to join us contact their Senator and Representative and ask for their support.   All we are asking is for everyone to have a chance to vote.

Senator Campsen represents areas south of Fort Johnson Road and Senator Senn represents people north of Fort Johnson Road.   Representative Stavrinakis’ district includes Riverland Terrace, the Grimball Community, and Sol Legare.

And, of course, give a big thank you to Representative Peter McCoy for all of his work to help reunite James Island.”

Read the Bill! Make comments!

Please make comments at the end of this article. We will try to find answers to your questions and welcome your input. (Yes, comments have to be approved, but we’ll try to be quick about it!)

You can look at the bill here or read the text below:

South Carolina General Assembly
122nd Session, 2017-2018
H. 4076
STATUS INFORMATION
General Bill
Sponsors: Rep. McCoy
Document Path: l:\council\bills\ggs\22989zw17.docx
Introduced in the House on March 30, 2017
Currently residing in the House Committee on Judiciary
Summary: Special purpose districts

HISTORY OF LEGISLATIVE ACTIONS
Date      Body   Action Description with journal page number
3/30/2017  House  Introduced and read first time (House Journal‑page 85)
3/30/2017  House  Referred to Committee on Judiciary (House Journal‑page 85)
View the latest legislative information at the website

VERSIONS OF THIS BILL

3/30/2017

A BILL

TO AMEND THE CODE OF LAWS OF SOUTH CAROLINA, 1976, BY ADDING SECTION 5‑3‑320 SO AS TO PROVIDE FOR AN ADDITIONAL METHOD OF ANNEXATION BY RESOLUTION OF A SPECIAL PURPOSE DISTRICT WHEN A PREEXISTING MUNICIPALITY THAT DOES NOT OPERATE AN ELECTRICITY DISTRIBUTION SYSTEM ANNEXES A MAJORITY OF THE POPULATION OF THE DISTRICT OR WHEN A MUNICIPALITY INCORPORATES A MAJORITY OF THE POPULATION OF A DISTRICT.

Whereas, the Constitution of the State of South Carolina encourages and fosters home rule wherever possible, providing that matters of local interest be decided by the persons most impacted by the decision, and encourages communities of interest to unite together where it is possible to do so; and

Whereas, allowing annexation of the remainder of the special purpose district would allow voters in that portion of that district to have representation in the municipal government and provide for a greater community of interest for provision of services; and

Whereas, in Tovey v. City of Charleston, 237 S.C. 475, 484, 117 S.E.2d 872, 875 (1961), the South Carolina Supreme Court held that there is no requirement of compactness or unity or regularity of shape of the boundaries of a municipality and that such matters are best left to the determination of the elected officials and voters of the municipality and the territory proposed to be annexed; and

Whereas, when a majority of the registered voters in a special purpose district have been incorporated within a municipality, and they continue to vote for the governing board of a district which determines the allocation of public services, the remaining voters in the district are left at a disadvantage because they have no ability to influence the policies of the municipality which may impact the good of the entire district; and

Whereas, annexation of the remainder of the special purpose district would allow voters in that portion of the district to have representation in the municipal government and provide for a greater community of interest; and

Whereas, public service districts often provide local government services across the entire district despite breaks in contiguity; and

Whereas, it is a matter best left to the elected officials and voters of the municipality, special purpose district, and the area to be annexed whether the contemplated addition is readily accessible to the municipality or whether the contemplated annexation would cause any difficulties in the administration of the affairs of the municipality or special purpose district or result in any undue hardship to any citizen.  Now, therefore,

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of South Carolina:

SECTION  1. Chapter 3, Title 5 of the 1976 Code is amended by adding:

“Section 5‑3‑320. (A)  In addition to any other methods of annexation authorized by this chapter, this method of annexation applies to a municipality that:

(1)   at the time of incorporation included the majority of the population or registered voters of a special purpose district; and

(2)   did not provide electricity service at the time of incorporation or at the time when this method of annexation was initiated.

(B)  For purposes of this section, ‘special purpose district’ means a district as defined by Section 4‑8‑10 that has an elected board.

(C)  This method of annexation allows a municipality that meets the requirements in subsection (A) to annex in a single annexation procedure the remaining unincorporated service area of the special purpose district.  This method of annexation is governed exclusively by the election requirements in this section.  Compliance with the notice requirements in Section 7‑13‑35 is not required.

(1)   For purposes of this method of annexation, contiguity of the municipality with any part of the district, including a part already incorporated in the municipality, is sufficient to allow annexation of the entire remainder of the district regardless of a break in contiguity in the area where the district currently provides services. Annexation of a special purpose district pursuant to this section does not create contiguity for purposes of annexation of unincorporated areas beyond the boundaries of the special purpose district.

(2)   Within three years of the incorporation by a municipality that meets the requirements of subsection (A) or within three years of the effective date of this statute, whichever occurs later, the governing body of the special purpose district, at its sole discretion and after a public hearing, may petition the municipality by resolution to annex the remaining unincorporated portion of the district.

(3)   No less than sixty days after receiving a petition by resolution from the district, the municipality must publish in a newspaper of general circulation within the municipality and the district a notice containing:

(a)   a description of the area to be annexed;

(b)   the act or code section pursuant to which the proposed annexation is to be accomplished; and

(c)   a statement that the municipal council requests the county election commission to order an election be held on the question of annexation in the area proposed to be annexed.

(4)   No less than sixty days after receiving a petition by resolution from the district, the municipal council shall request the county election commission to order an election.  The municipal council shall pay all the costs of this election.  The county election commission shall give at least thirty days’ notice prior to the date set for the election by publishing the notice of election in a newspaper of general circulation within the municipality and the district.  Registered qualified electors residing within the area to be annexed have the same qualifications to vote in this election as are required of registered qualified electors to vote in the State and county general elections.  The county election commission shall certify the result of the election to the district commission and the municipality.

(5)   If a majority of the votes cast by the qualified electors of the area to be annexed are in opposition to the annexation, the municipal council shall publish the result of the election, and the area is not annexed.  If a majority of the votes cast by the qualified electors of the area to be annexed are in favor of the annexation, the municipal council by resolution shall declare the area annexed.

(D)  If the remainder of the district is annexed by the municipality according to the provisions of subsection (C), the district must be allowed to continue to provide services and collect millage in the entire area of the district incorporated in the municipality.  Any effort to dissolve the district as provided in Article 15, Chapter 11, Title 6 or to plan for the transfer of services from the district to the municipality pursuant to Sections 5‑3‑311 through 5‑3‑315, must not be formulated unless a separate referendum occurs after all areas of the district are annexed and represented on the municipal council.

(E)  This method of annexation does not have the effect of changing the boundaries of the special purpose district.

(F)   The provisions of this section expire three years from the effective date of this act.”

SECTION  2. The provisions of this act are declared by the General Assembly to be nonseverable, and if any portion of this act is declared by a court of competent jurisdiction to be invalid, unconstitutional, unenforceable, or unlawful, the remaining provisions are declared to be null and void.

SECTION  3. This act takes effect January 1, 2018.

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