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Why Annexation Matters

Annexation counts among the hottest policy issues that municipalities face, attracting attention, speculation and packed city council chambers. It’s a complex issue as well, since it impacts finances, infrastructure construction, emergency services planning and even the layout of council districts.

Annexation can increase a city’s population and broaden its tax base, making municipal services more affordable for residents and giving more people a say in the governance of their community. It can also reduce the significant confusion that enclaves create over what government has jurisdiction at a given address, and who is responsible for services. 

Long-term benefits come with short-term costs, however. Establishing city services in new areas can expand the financial needs of the municipality in ways that new tax and fee revenues cannot offset. Councils need to study whether an annexation is in the city’s best interest each time they consider one. During the public hearing necessary for a 75% petition and ordinance method of annexation, for example, state law requires the city to formally state what services it will provide, the cost of new services, and when the city will provide them. 

For property owners, the annexation process is often misunderstood. Some property owners fear that a municipality will forcibly annex their property, even though the 100% petition and ordinance method, the most commonly used annexation method in South Carolina, requires the agreement of all property owners involved.

Annexation opponents often cite worsening traffic congestion among the reasons they stand against it, since residents often equate annexation with accelerating development in high-growth areas. However, the opposite is true. Higher-density development closer to existing infrastructure and services actually reduces trip distances and time spent in traffic. Furthermore, developers petitioning a city to annex their property often state that they will move their projects forward with or without annexing into a city, so annexation gives a city its only opportunity to regulate new growth and set higher development standards using planning and zoning tools.

Annexation Handbook

To help local officials navigate the considerations and the requirements of annexation, the Municipal Association of SC offers guidance through its Annexation Handbook, available online. 

The handbook covers the three methods of annexation available to South Carolina municipalities: the 100% petition and ordinance method, the 75% petition and ordinance method and the 25% petition and election method. It provides checklists, includes sample petitions, and explains the other documents to be assembled when enacting an annexation. 

It also helps with many other technical issues: 

Defining contiguity. Properties can be annexed only when they are contiguous to municipal boundaries. The handbook addresses cases where roads, railroads or waterways intervene between a property inside the municipal boundaries and one outside.

Examining policy considerations. In addition to weighing the financial requirements of expanding services, cities need to consider issues like the zoning or rezoning of parcels as they are annexed, the legal issues involved in requiring annexation agreements as a condition for providing services outside the city, as well as incentivizing annexation through tax relief. 

Following rules for annexing certain property types. State law has varying rules for annexation of property owned by the municipality, the county, state or federal government or a school district, among others. 

Annexation series 

Upcoming issues of Uptown will explore some of the key issues involved in annexation, including the impact analyses and processes involved, as well as the communications that cities and towns undertake both to explain the processes and the implications of annexation and to dispel the misconceptions that often surround annexation.