The Questions of Annexation

Annexation — the process by which a city or town expands its boundaries — is among the most frequently discussed policy subjects in municipal government. Questions related to annexation range from eligibility of properties to methodology, costs, city council districts and utility services for out-of-town customers.
Annexation requires properties to be contiguous to existing municipal boundaries as defined in SC Code Section 5-3-305. The properties must touch other properties already inside the municipality before the city or town can annex them. In the three methods of annexation provided for under South Carolina law, all or some of the affected property owners or electors must petition for the property in question to be annexed. 

Municipal leaders in many cases support annexation. It allows for the expansion of city services, and grows the population and the tax base. Annexation also permits more people to have a say in decisions about the community’s policies, future planning and development and the services provided. Even so, officials must consider the best interests of their city every time they annex a property. 

The long-term benefits of annexation will often outweigh the short-term costs. Even so, the establishment of new services can at times create a financial burden that cannot be offset by new revenues, taxes and fees generated in the annexed area. For each proposed annexation, councils must weigh all of the factors so they can make an informed decision. A formalized policy for evaluating annexations can be helpful. 

For property owners, opinions are more mixed, ranging from those who would like municipal services to those who vigorously oppose additional government in their lives. Because annexation has a public relations element, many municipalities create dedicated communications efforts to explain the benefits and costs of annexation, including taxes and service charges, which can correct misinformation. An April 2019 Uptown article, “Crunching Numbers for Annexation Costs,” examined websites and interactive annexation calculators used by several cities and towns.

There are three methods of annexation available in South Carolina law:
Upcoming issues of Uptown will explore the rules and processes of each of these three methods. Information on the methods is also available in the Municipal Association’s Annexation Handbook.