For a city's administration, a newly annexed resident can be several things — a taxpayer; a new connection for water, sewer and sanitation; or a new voter in need of assignment to a city council district.
For someone considering annexing in, the city brings a more straightforward issue — will taxes go up, and if so, by how much?
As Andrew Livengood, annexation coordinator for the City of Columbia, sees it, people want something more specific than general information about tax changes in a typical situation.
"When you're talking about the annexation of a particular person's property, the typical doesn't really matter. It's 'How's it going to affect me?'" he said.
Livengood described the City of Columbia's annexation calculator as something that can save property owners who may annex in from the potentially cumbersome process of sharing their tax bill, water bill, power bill or any similar information with a city official in order to get answers.
Building specific estimates can help people understand the sometimes confusing way that annexation can work. For example, unincorporated residences in Richland County typically pay a $249 fee for curbside garbage pickup added onto their property taxes. Inside the city, solid waste collection is included in basic millage. If someone were to annex in and have $100 in new property taxes, the reduction of the $249 could leave them with $149 less in taxes.
The calculator, Livengood said, "is a tool that allows people to see the numbers for themselves. That's where I've found it most valuable."
The Town of Mount Pleasant has an annexation calculator as well. It takes into account the town's millage rates, Charleston County's rates, assessment differences and each entities' different fees, and "puts them in terms that people can understand," Senior Planner Austin Rutherford said.
Mount Pleasant's website also features a bullet-list page for annexation benefits, including trash pickup that is included within the property tax, lower sewer rates, the potential for lower insurance rates and lower property taxes for those currently situated in the county's Consolidated Awendaw Fire District. It notes some reduced rates for recreation department services as well. As Rutherford said, little things can add up, and the additional illustration made possible by the calculator can help "people who are on the fence."
A listing of annexation benefits usually includes something that is often overlooked: a resident's enhanced opportunity to participate in local government. The City of Columbia's list includes service on a city board or commission, but also encourages participation in one of the city's 93 neighborhood organizations, some of which are situated along the outer edge of the city, like the Eau Claire Community Council.
Honesty and transparency can be important tools for building trust when a property owner is considering annexation, which includes suggesting the owner also consult with the county for information. Every situation can be unique. Livengood said that focusing on more than just the potential for savings is important.
"There are things that people see savings on, there are things that do cost money. I don't want to focus just on 'Hey, these bills are going to be lower,' when they [could] get a bill that is slightly higher," he said.
Columbia Water also has a bill estimator for residential water and sewer service. Livengood described the process of building a useful annexation calculator as striking a balance between making the process simple and providing necessary details. He also invited Columbia city staff to experiment with the calculator to find ways in which it didn't work.
"It definitely requires checking, double-checking, and having other people check your math and assumptions, and honestly, trying to break [the calculator]," he said.