The exact location of a city or town seems like a matter beyond dispute — it's every part of the area enclosed by municipal boundaries. The location of those lines governs everything from tax revenue to representation and responsibility for governmental services, but discrepancies sometimes exist among the maps used by different entities.
Technology-driven changes to commerce have made the issue more important. The growth of transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft has created new local assessment fee revenue for a city when rides originate in that city. The Supreme Court's South Dakota v. Wayfair decision means that online retailers now owe sales tax to cities when a purchase is delivered to an address in that city, and the SC Department of Revenue began collecting sales tax from sellers without a physical presence on November 1, 2018.
State law requires municipalities to notify four entities of every annexation of property:
- The Secretary of State, which issues certificates of incorporation;
- The Department of Transportation, which needs information on maintenance responsibility for any given road;
- The Department of Public Safety; and
- The Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office, which uses the information to draw lines for election districts and to determine Local Government Fund disbursements.
Historically, the Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office has maintained the most accurate database of GIS boundary mapping of boundaries in South Carolina. RFA posts its database of city and county boundaries on its website in an accessible format.
Scott Slatton, legislative and public policy advocate for the Municipal Association, identified other entities that cities should provide with up-to-date boundary information:
- All municipal departments, preventing incorrect assumptions by any city staff about whether a given property is inside the city;
- The county government, which helps with the proper coordination of services, especially emergency services;
- The county board of voter registration, which allows it to assign election districts to new annexations; and
- Utility franchises, so that franchise fees can be levied correctly.
Tiger Wells, the Association's director of governmental affairs, stressed the importance of maintaining proper documentation so that city staff can immediately produce the relevant ordinance if questions exist about where the boundary falls.
"If there is an annexation, before getting to the point of giving notifications, make sure everything is consistent — plat and narrative description — keep it all together in case you ever have to prove it," he said.
In addition to updating governmental users, many cities also work to keep updated maps available to the general public through their websites. Cassie Davis, the GIS coordinator for the City of Anderson, has worked to provide up-to-date mapping through the city's website. When her boundary data is updated through GIS because of an annexation, that information then becomes available online.
Anderson's interactive maps go deeper as well, illustrating land use, zoning and even bus routes. Both the website and Davis' contact information are linked on the state GIS contacts page of the South Carolina GIS website, increasing the likelihood that the available data will get to engineers, contractors and any member of the public who needs it.