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In 2006 there were a lot of changes in Charleston, South Carolina but one item to note is that the city grew in acreage. How is this possible? Well, residents who own property adjacent to the Charleston municipal limits annexed their properties & thus became city residents. The article by David Slade with the Post and Courier (December 30, 2006) discusses this further:

“Charleston grew by 855 acres this year, as hundreds of property owners who were adjacent to the municipal limits decided to annex and become city residents.

In many cases, property owners made the switch after the city mailed letters and hosted meetings encouraging them to annex. Most of those who joined the city this year live west of the Ashley River, where Charleston’s tax, water and sewer rates are lower than in the St. Andrews Public Service District.

The city’s efforts to encourage voluntary property annexations added 512 people to Charleston’s population, and 260 properties worth more than $56 million, according to the city’s Department of Planning, Preservation and Neighborhoods.

However, one of the properties Charleston annexed is the Carolina Bay tract in West Ashley, where 1,500 homes are planned, so the city will eventually gain far more residents than the 2006 annexation numbers suggest.

Charleston’s policy is to annex properties when the owners ask to join the city, and Mayor Joe Riley has said that, ideally, all the properties in unincorporated areas surrounded by the city boundaries will eventually become part of Charleston.

“This is a long-term, big-picture, for the future good of the community issue,” Riley said.

He said annexations lead to more efficient government services by allowing the city to serve people who were connected to or surrounded by Charleston. Those outside the city line get police protection from a county sheriff, and municipal services from a public service district.

The city limits cover a far-flung area of 104 square miles, running from the western edges of Johns Island and West Ashley, across James Island, up the Charleston peninsula to the North Charleston city line, through Daniel Island and Cainhoy in Berkeley County, and into the Francis Marion National Forest.

Charleston’s municipal limits are like Swiss cheese, full of holes that are part of unincorporated Charleston or Berkeley counties, and encircling the new town of James Island. In the unincorporated areas, property owners with land abutting the city limits can petition to join the city.

In 2005, Charleston focused on convincing James Island residents to annex, and the owners of 293 properties did just that. This year, another 112 James Island properties joined the city, before the incorporation of James Island blocked further annexations.

Charleston has filed a legal challenge to the incorporation of the town of James Island.

Meanwhile, Charleston set its sights on West Ashley, where the city’s lower property tax and water and sewer rates can mean hundreds of dollars in annual savings for homeowners annexing from the St. Andrews PSD. The savings on taxes and utilities would add up to around $700 this year for someone with a home worth $200,000.

In West Ashley, roughly 7,000 properties are in the PSD, and about 16,000 properties are in the city. In some cases, next-door neighbors sit on opposite sides of the Charleston city line, paying considerably different amounts of taxes on properties of similar value.

City officials have said more than half the properties in the PSD are contiguous to Charleston and eligible to annex. Annexation means the property becomes a permanent part of the city.

A big question the city and the PSD are now working to resolve is: Who gets the tax money?

When cities annex properties from a public service district, state law requires the two taxing authorities to negotiate on the property tax revenues. On James Island, such an agreement is in place and the James Island Public Service District continues to collect the full amount of property tax from properties annexed into the city for six years.

West of the Ashley, it’s a bit more complicated. There’s no agreement yet in place, but even if the city turns over all the property tax money to the PSD, it will be less money than the PSD would have collected before, due to its higher tax rate.

“We’re in the process of working out an agreement with the St. Andrews Public Service District and the St. Andrews Parks and Recreation Commission,” said Riley.

Calls to the PSD were directed to Manager Charles V. Feather, who was on vacation.

In an interview earlier this year, Feather noted that property tax rates can change, and he said the public service district can offer a personal level of service that a big city cannot.”

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