City of Indian Land?

Fed up with unchecked growth in Lancaster County’s fastest growing region, a group of Panhandle residents have joined forces to explore incorporation for Indian Land.

Calling themselves Indian Land Voice (ILV), the group met publicly for the first time Aug. 17 at the Del Webb Library. About a dozen residents attended the meeting, not counting organizers.

Having organized and begun the exploratory process about two months ago, members say it’s now time to take their ideas to the public.

“We are a group of citizens interested in the incorporation of Indian Land,” ILV member Michael Koshis said in kicking off the meeting. “We want to engage the support of the community, that’s why we’re having these meetings. We want to gauge what you guys think.”

This is not the first time incorporation has been discussed by Indian Land residents, though the area prviously lacked the statutory population density to support the move.

But all that’s changed now in an area that saw its population nearly double over the last decade to 19,729, according to the 2010 Census, almost all of the growth is north of Waxhaw Highway (S.C. 75).

The increased population means the area will also pick up a new seat on Lancaster County Council, a development that bodes well for the area.

With between 17,000 and 20,000 people, a city in the Panhandle would immediately rank 17th or 18th in size among South Carolina cities, ILV members said.

One of the biggest impetuses behind the push is what many ILV members see as haphazard and uncontrolled growth along U.S. 521, which bisects Indian Land.

The area is a hodgepodge of B-3 zoning, a zoning category that allows 88 different types of businesses.

Many Indian Land Voice members, such as Jane Tanner, said along U.S. 521, Indian Land is already beginning to look like Independence and South boulevards in Charlotte – heavily traveled mixes of commercial and residential areas with little or no rhyme or reason.

Tanner said County Council spent two years and millions of dollars for the U.S. 521/S.C. 9 corridor study, in part to examine and control such growth in the Panhandle.

But the county has since shelved the study and largely ignored its suggestions, Tanner said.

“When I heard any decisions we make up here (as a city) would override county zoning, that just perked me up,” Tanner said.

“If we become a city, we already have a planning department,” she said holding up a copy of the corridor study. “We already have a plan to follow.”

Tanner and others said most of the opposition to incorporation they’ve heard centers on property taxes.

Indian Land Voice members said they found out through talks with a S.C. Municipal Association official that there are other revenue streams available to municipalities without property taxes.

“No property taxes are necessary to form a city,” Koshis said. “All services (in Indian Land) would be the same as in the county. We wouldn’t miss out on any of that.

“What we are missing out on is the revenue being collected (by the county and state) here in Indian Land,” he said.

Among the possible revenue streams, organizers said, would be the chance of receiving a portion of the state’s sales tax revenue. Business licenses and scaled business-license taxes would be another that could bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars annually from some of Indian Land’s larger businesses.

If, in the future, residents decided they wanted to expand services, organizers said, the city’s charter could easily be set up to allow tax increases with approval from a preset majority of residents.

Clyde McFadden, who lives in Cobblestone, said he is intrigued by the idea, but asked how a city of Indian Land would pay for police and fire services.

Tanner said with the Indian Land and Pleasant Valley fire districts and support from the county, the area’s two fire departments are already funded.

The Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office, she said, could provide law enforcement services for the city in the same way they do for Kershaw and Heath Springs.

The city of Kershaw pays $600,000 a year to the sheriff’s office for the services of eight deputies, sheriff’s office Capt. Monty Craig said.

He said there are currently three, sometimes four, deputies per shift assigned to Indian Land and estimates the area would need between six to eight more deputies per shift in the future.

Indian Land Voice organizers said those are the kinds of questions they are trying to explore with the group’s formation.

As they explore the idea, Indian Land Voice members said they want to contact other relatively new cities in South Carolina, such as James Island and Tega Cay, to learn how they incorporated and what they learned.

While group members stress they’re still in the early-learning phase, the one thing they do know is the process is not going to happen overnight. To incorporate, they’d first have to decide the city’s possible boundaries and then start a petition to get incorporation on the ballot, among other concerns.

Van Wyck resident J.R. Wilt suggested Indian Land Voice use the Indian Land Volunteer Fire Department response area line to determine the southern boundary.

Still, he didn’t seem too thrilled about the idea of incorporation and said his southern Panhandle neighbors would agree.

“I can tell you right now, the people who live south of that line have no interest in being part of this city,” Wilt said.

Indian Land Voice members such as Beverly Lynch, whose family has lived in Indian Land for more than 100 years, believes the idea is something that may fly with Indian Land residents, and is definitely something that needs to be done.

“Change has come, but not in the shape that we want,” Lynch said. “Progress is coming and it can’t be stopped – but we can accept it and shape it.

“Are we going to depend on Lancaster County to help us, or are we going to do it ourselves?” Lynch asked.

“We have the ability and the resources to make Indian Land the crown jewel of Lancaster County.”

By Reece Murphy, Staff Reporter with The Lancaster News