Rock Hill to cut off water despite residents' pleas

jself@heraldonline.comSeptember 15, 2010 

— Rock Hill officials plan to turn off utility taps of county residents who refuse annexation by today's noon deadline despite being asked for an extension, city officials confirmed Tuesday.

Starting Monday the city plans to phase out service to residents who do not agree to annexation. Those who agree to annexation will not be affected, city officials said.

Property owners in three York County neighborhoods and along S.C. 161 are part of Rock Hill's annexation efforts to take control of commercial development along the S.C. 161 corridor.

Homeowners argue they don't want city services or their costs. They wonder whether they're legally obligated to annex, a question their attorney plans to explore.

Hired last week by the Miller Pond homeowners association, Attorney Jim Meggs of Columbia said he could likely get to the bottom of that question with more time.

But the city refused his request for a 30-day extension on the city's deadline.

"If I have adequate time to analyze where (residents) are, they're going to get the real skinny" on where they stand legally, Meggs said Tuesday. "But the city is not giving us the time for deliberation."

A stalemate

Giving residents more time will likely do no good, said Bill Meyer, Rock Hill's planning and development director. In what Meyer called a "stalemate," both city officials and residents feel there have been no efforts to compromise.

But both parties agree on one point: city officials won't budge on seeking annexation and residents won't budge on fighting it.

The conflict with county residents has led to mixed feelings among Rock Hill City Council members.

Councilwoman Susie Hinton wouldn't say whether she supports the city's actions.

"I am really torn about the whole matter. It's really a very difficult situation," she said.

Councilman John Black, whose ward would include the proposed annexation, said Friday that even if the city has legal grounds to terminate services, "it doesn't mean it's the right thing to do."

The city claims the right to annex from an agreement it made with the neighborhood's original developer. Long before houses were built, the city agreed to provide utilities in exchange for annexation at a later date.

That obligation passed on to future property owners, according to city officials.

But many residents claim they didn't know about it. Residents of Miller Pond say they should be left out of the annexation because they only receive water from the city and pay around double what city residents pay.

As paying customers, some residents wonder why the city would turn off their water.

The city's policy is designed to help it meet the state's strict annexation requirements. To annex, the city needs approval of 75 percent of property owners holding 75 percent of the property value. The city's utilities policy is a way to obligate residents to annexation long before annexation may even be possible.

But as of Tuesday, the city had received petitions from only 20 of 121 property owners involved in the annexation and only two from Miller Pond, coming in short of what it needs to annex.

For now, residents are waiting for taps to run dry.

"We're scared," said David Grigg, president of the Miller Pond homeowners association. "I'd be lying if I said anything different."

Jamie Self 803-329-4062

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