‘Voice’ calls for Indian Land incorporation

joverman@fortmilltimes.comJuly 15, 2013 

— More than six years ago, a group of approximately 50 or so Indian Land residents gathered to learn more about becoming their own city. Guided by a representative from the Municipal Association of South Carolina, they were talked through the procedure step-by-step.

In the following years, incorporation was discussed during political campaigns and a few more community meetings, but the idea never took root.

A group called Indian Land Voice hopes to spur action towards incorporation again.

“The county is not looking out for us,” said Jane Tanner, Indian Land Voice secretary. “We’re like the cash cow for Lancaster County.”

Most of the county’s growth in recent years has occurred in the Panhandle and zoning issues have not been addressed, Tanner said. Efforts to plan for growth, including the Hwy. 521 and Hwy. 9 corridor studies, were created but not enforced, she added.

“We’re getting tired of this,” Tanner said. “We want our own planning department so we can be in charge of our own destiny so we’re not just the filling station capital of the world.”

The community group has created an incorporation petition and is working to get the legally required number of signatures – 15 percent of registered voters, or a total of approximately 4,000 signatures. If it can gather enough signatures, a referendum would be held to determine if the community favors incorporation and what form of government voters prefer. Voters would get to choose the terms of mayor and council members and whether they hold partisan or nonpartisan elections.

‘Voice’ leaders assert that if the community incorporates, the only municipal department it will require is a planning department. Revenue will come from business license fees, they said, not taxes, and Tanner said their expenses shouldn’t exceed that revenue, based on their initial projections.

They’re working on a detailed budget.

Jerry Holt, a member of the Lancaster County Planning Commission, sais he isn’t sure incorporating can be done without residential property taxes. He initially worked with the Voice to create estimates of revenue and expenses and said that he doesn’t think the business license fee will pay for the entire operating expenses of an incorporated Indian Land.

Holt, along with members of Indian Land Voice, took inventory of the community’s businesses and attempted to estimate what they would pay for a business license, based on the City of Lancaster’s business license fee. Using that as his estimated revenue stream, he compared it to a projected city budget he compiled, including a planning department, a mayor and council with minimal or no compensation, zoning officers, rental space, leased cars, tools, equipment, and facilities for minimal staff, among other expenses.

“Using that, we came up with a budget, a really tight budget in my estimation, of about $1.2 million to $1.5 million and honestly I think it would run higher. And the revenue was well under a million,” he said. “You’ve got a revenue gap.”

“My conclusion is that it’s not reasonable to expect you can pay for this with business license fees.”

If the community does decide to incorporate, Holt said, the revenue shortfall would increase as residents demanded more services.

He said he believes that the planning commission and council are more focused on growth issues in the Panhandle and is prepared to address issues that have plagued the community for years, including an influx of gas stations and concerns about business zoning classifications.

“Where we seem to be now, both on the planning commission and the council is that there is a recognition that change is required,” Holt said.

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