Let’s talk openly about Fort Mill annexing Indian Land

October 1, 2013 

It’s been a while, but the idea of Fort Mill annexing at least some part of the Indian Land Panhandle into town limits has surfaced again, and this time there could be more than just talk behind it.

Fort Mill officials recently met with Melvin Threatt, president of a group organized to gather enough signatures on a petition to hold a referendum on whether Indian Land should incorporate as a city itself. The meeting was held in private, so the only information we have is anecdotal from interviews with Threatt and town council members who said they weren’t there, but were later briefed by the Fort Mill officials who were – Town Manager Dennis Pieper and Mayor Danny Funderburk. Based on talking with Threatt and council members – neither Pieper nor Funderburk returned voice messages requesting interviews – the gist of the meeting was that Threatt was asked about the progress of his petition drive and how he’d feel about giving that up and instead supporting annexation into Fort Mill.

Threatt wouldn’t tell us if he would consider campaigning for Indian Land to become part of Fort Mill, only that he’s continuing to gather signatures. For their part, the town council members we talked to said this was just Fort Mill dipping a toe in the water and it wouldn’t make any serious moves toward annexation until some unspecified time in the future.

We suspect otherwise.

If Threatt’s organization, Indian Land Voice, gains traction, the incorporation question could be on the ballot rather quickly. Maybe not next year, but certainly by 2016. Once that occurs, and if a majority of voters say yes, then Fort Mill lost its chance. If Pieper and Funderburk aren’t serious about it, why put in the time and effort to explore the idea in the first place? Surely Pieper, the town’s full-time administrator, has better things to do with this time.

Not that we’re saying it’s a good idea or not a good idea at this point. There are many questions that remain, including the cost of supplying services, chiefly fire and police protection, to a greatly expanded town. Will the property taxes generated from homes in what is now Indian Land be enough to pay for the added first responders and will new police and fire departments have to be built? Is the recreation department in a position to grow to meet the needs of all the new families who would reside inside the town, and how might this affect the planned closing of the Recreation Complex on the Greenway (formerly the Leroy Springs Recreation Complex)? What about trash and recycling service? Will a tax increase be needed to subsidize the added expenses of the annexation?

Questions that can’t be answered in a cost-benefit analysis include how to blend two communities with distinct identities and separate school districts. There’s plenty more. That’s why the town, if it’s serious about this, should come out into the open with its plans and start holding a series of public hearings. Meetings should be held in Fort Mill as well as Indian Land and every effort should be made to gauge the public’s interest by talking to as wide a cross section of residents as possible.

There’s no good reason to continue exploring this option in a secretive way and no good reason for waiting to get public input. Unless the town’s not serious about this after all.

And in that case, Pieper, who’s paid handsomely to manage the town’s affairs, and to some extent Funderburk as well, should explain why they were wasting time talking to Threatt in the first place.

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