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Thoughts on Annexation Meeting


By: Scott Cooper

web posted July 15, 2016
scott
                                                          cooperGUEST COLUMN –  I am grateful the leadership of Edgefield County Council organized the special called County Council meeting on Tuesday July 12th to discuss the legal issues of North Augusta annexing portions of Merriwether, the southern part of Edgefield County and the legal process of Merriwether Incorporating as an option for the citizens to block such annexation. I also am grateful they included Mayor Lark Jones of North Augusta, our state delegation, critical municipal employees from both Edgefield County and North Augusta including County Attorney Andrew Marine who explained the law and also Edgefield County Water and Sewage Authority Director John Hare. Finally, I appreciate Sweetwater Baptist Church for hosting the meeting, enabling over 500 residents of the southern portion of the county to attend. Click here to read about that meeting,

Because I will be serving on County Council beginning in 2017, I wanted to share with you my initial thoughts. At the end, I will provide my contact information, as I solicit your insight and feedback.

In my opinion, two forces which have helped make our country exceptional is our historic belief in free market economics and our private property rights. These two forces, in the opinion of many, have created the largest middle class in the history of the world. Ultimately, these two forces are at the center of the discussion of our region’s growth, annexation and incorporation.
While I have resided in Edgefield County since only 2013, I have regularly visited here my entire life and have invested time studying the demographics and the economics of the greater C.S.R.A. for over two decades. I have done so because of family history in this region which dates back to the 1800’s, and due to a desire to eventually immigrate here.

In the course of the last three decades, I have lived in three other regions where I have witnessed first-hand free market forces change the economics of what had been largely rural areas to more populated areas. I have witnessed some areas develop exceptionally well, and I have witnessed some areas develop poorly. When these forces exist, growth happens, whether planned or unplanned; desired or undesired. I could tell multiple stories from each of those three regions, but the bottom line is the changes to those regions were driven by free market economics and private property rights – things we historically have cherished.

Since moving to Merriwether and Edgefield County, it has been a desire of mine to help, to the best of my ability, the existing leadership of our county, harness the inevitable growth in such a way that would benefit the entire county. A rising tide lifts all boats – and if we plan wisely, I believe it will help our entire county prosper. Having spent close to two years on the Edgefield County Tax Appeals Board, over a year on our County Hospital Board and a year on our county Grand Jury – I truly want to see revenue increase for Edgefield County. We need it. We need it for our school system. We need it for public safety. We need it for our aging infrastructure, including all county vehicles and equipment. We need it for much desired parks and recreation, as well as a wide range of other financial needs and desires we have.

Now that close to 500 citizens understand the legal process of annexation, we recognize a few things. First, land can only be annexed into the city of North Augusta if it is contiguous to the existing municipal line. Second, annexation to date has rarely taken place, and when it has, it has been due to private land owners adjacent to the municipal line choosing to exercise their right as private property owners to seek the highest return on their investment in land. Third, a primary reason this sale is financially advantageous to the land owner is because North Augusta can offer the land owner access to sewage, an infrastructure which Edgefield County currently doesn’t have the resources to provide and paying North Augusta taxes in addition to Edgefield taxes is economically beneficial in the overall sense. Annexation enables that raw resource, land, to be utilized for more diverse purposes, potentially providing more tax revenue to Edgefield County while benefiting the land owner.

In any case, the bottom line, under the current situation, existing property owners in Edgefield County are not facing annexation, unless as residents along the municipal line, they choose to be annexed.

There was discussion about incorporating Merriwether to prevent private landowners from exercising that option. Stated another way, incorporation was discussed as a way to block North Augusta from annexing parts of Edgefield County, but the way I said it the first time is also accurate. I know there are advocates for that initiative, but I am not yet convinced that is the best long term option to move Merriwether or the county forward. First, because it limits private property rights. Second, we know large portions of Edgefield County will not percolate, which enables development and sceptic tanks. We do not have a study on what percentage of Merriwether faces the same issue. I would advocate raising the funds to find that data out prior to pursuing incorporation. I would also like to research the feasibility of acquiring sewage infrastructure from new sources; however; at this point, I don’t think that is a cost our citizens will consider supporting. Third, the additional cost to the taxpayer to support Incorporation should be considered.

Serving on County Council, my role will be to represent you at the county level and help ensure the county operates in a way that benefits Merriwether and also ensures the financial viability of the county as a whole. I want to share two desires I have in that process:

First, I would like to help facilitate a plan for Merriwether which preserves the quality of life that I hear so many citizens talk about, why they moved to Merriwether and Edgefield, while at the same time making the most of the inevitable growth our portion of the county must confront. I am happy to see Mark Anderson was recently appointed to represent the Merriwether area on our county Planning Commission Board and that Rodney Ingle was hired to be the Business Development Manager for the County. I have attended a couple Planning Commission meetings, which are open to the public. The meetings I have attended did not include any public participation. I would like to see a few committed citizens from Merriwether who spoke passionately at Tuesday’s meeting begin attending these Planning Commission Meetings. It is important, in my opinion, that more citizens attend these meetings to know and have input on what is going on with the development of our county.

Second, as a member of the regenerative agriculture movement, which is growing nationwide, I see huge opportunities with large portions of our county, which has huge sections of land committed to pines and / or laying fallow. It would be my desire to see the regenerative agriculture movement grow in our county. There are many reasons why I believe this is important, and I am happy to see that there already have been a few new agricultural operations begin in the recent years.

In closing, I believe I bring a big picture view of our region, state and our country as I seek to represent the Merriwether District on the Edgefield County Council. I feel privileged to have been asked by Genia Blackwell to serve on the boards to which she has appointed me these last three years, and am honored to have her support. I believe she has been a great voice for Merriwether at the county level these past eight years, and I will do my best to fill her shoes!

Please feel free to reach out to me via e-mail or phone. I look forward to growing together!

Blessings,
Scott Cooper
Scott@HScottCooper.com
540-455-9306



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