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See column: VTIL’s case is all ‘glittering generalities’

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Guest columnist Robin A. See is an Indian Land resident.

I’m a New Jersey native who retired and moved to Indian Land in 2014.
After looking in York, Union and Mecklenburg counties, I finally decided on settling here in Indian Land. I found a thriving community with all the services my family needed, but less government and taxes than the other three counties offered.  
While living in New Jersey, I had the honor of serving on the planning board in my hometown. I served five years as executive director of the Greater Fort Lee Chamber of Commerce and also was executive director of the Foundation for the Handicapped. I understand municipal budgets, as well as planning and zoning issues.
On Oct. 3, the Joint Legislative Committee voted 4 to 3 to allow VTIL (Voters for a Town of Indian Land) to move forward to a vote on incorporating Indian Land and the Panhandle.
Since that time I have sat through two presentations made by VTIL. Both times they spouted glittering generalities and pie-in-the-sky ideas of local control. No facts, no reference to S.C. state law, no clear explanation of any budget or plans.
They continue to compare us to towns in Georgia, rather than recognizing that each state has its own laws that govern incorporation.
They also made false statements, including that the S.C. Highway Patrol would continue to patrol the Panhandle if we became incorporated and that Lancaster County Sheriff Barry Faile was wrong about the true cost of law enforcement if a new town of Indian Land were to contract with the sheriff’s office. 
Here’s the reality. South Carolina’s Title 5 governs and stipulates responsibilities of municipalities, the process by which one can request incorporation to be put on the ballot, and services that are required as part of being incorporated.
By law, the incorporated area must supply law enforcement, either by contracting with a local law-enforcement agency that exists, or creating their own police department. The level of law enforcement the town supplies must be substantially similar to what currently exists within the unincorporated area.
There are nine services that a municipality can choose to supply within its municipal limits. To even be considered, you must select three of those services and show a budget for how you plan on providing them.
VTIL submitted a $7.7 million budget for four services – fire service, parks and recreation, building code enforcement, and planning and zoning – plus law enforcement. Their budget also included legal services and salaries for mayor and council, as well as leasing of office space. They budgeted nothing for roads, technology services or capital expenses.
Not only is VTIL’s budget grossly underestimated, but it is a nonbinding proposal. If incorporation passes and a mayor and council are elected, the very first real and realistic budget will be crafted by that new town council.  
The reality is that those nine services here in Indian Land are already supplied by Lancaster County.
We receive fire protection through a $90 fire fee and additional county funding.
We get our water supply and water distribution through the Lancaster County Water Sewer District, which also handles wastewater collection and treatment. We now have stormwater collection and disposal managed by the county through the new $60 stormwater fee.
We have enforcement of building, housing, plumbing and electrical codes, as well as planning and zoning departments, handled by the county.
The county also manages our recreational facilities and programs.
Solid-waste collection and disposal at the residential level is handled by private contracts with residents.
The ninth possible service, street lighting, is managed locally through HOAs or commercial properties, but at the street level falls to the county or state.  
A budget comparison with Aiken, a municipality half the size, but with a similar population, was revealing. After removing the part of Aiken’s budget that includes water and sewer services, approximately $24 million was left to cover law enforcement, fire service, parks and recreation, planning and zoning, building and code enforcement, city council, municipal court, finance and legal services, as well as their road department. Based on this comparison, I believe a real budget for a town of Indian Land, once crafted by a new town council, will be almost three times the proposed $7.7 million budget when the dust settles.
What we will get from incorporation is a new layer of government and new municipal property taxes, but no new services. Yet, we will continue to pay our county property taxes and school taxes. That will not change.   
Our proximity to Charlotte is what drives the growth here. Prior to 1998, Lancaster County was so rural that there was no zoning. Ever since I-485 was built and Johnston Road connected to Indian Land, the need for zoning became apparent.
But in the last five years, Lancaster County has made great strides in changing how growth and development is handled. In 2012, the county began revamping the master plan and zoning regulations.
In 2015, the county put in place the Highway 521 Corridor Overlay District. This added to existing zoning, requiring improved signage and landscaping for better aesthetics along U.S. 521 and S.C. 160. Current enhanced architectural requirements are responsible for the more attractive appearances of recent commercial structures on these two main corridors.
In November 2016, the county passed the new UDO (Unified Development Ordinance). Guidelines require greater aesthetics for development – sidewalks, trees, turning lanes, etc. – and helps to address growth issues.  
Since 2012, Lancaster County has made significant improvements to control growth and plan for the future of Indian Land. It isn’t perfect, but a new layer of municipal government, new taxes and government employees and six more elected officials will not make it better.
With the 2020 U.S. Census, Indian Land and the Panhandle will get a third council seat, and may also see the seventh council seat become an at-large member representing the entire county.
If you feel that is too long to wait, realize that by statute, a newly incorporated town will have three full years before they have to be up and running and providing services. Ask yourself where the money to run that new town will come from. Indian Land residents and businesses will bear the burden and have to continue to pay their county taxes as well, but receive no new services for their municipal tax dollars.  
As Jeff Shacker of the S.C. Municipal Association stated, we are all governed by the laws of South Carolina. If incorporation were to pass, the new town of Indian Land will be no different.
Governing is not simple. It’s easy to criticize and complain, but it’s really important to understand how the process actually works, what it costs and know where your tax dollars actually go. Do not be misled by glittering generalities into believing that incorporation of Indian Land and the Panhandle will magically fix all the problems of our growing community.