"A public health crisis" could result from Rock Hill's plan to turn off utilities at homes in Miller Pond, a county neighborhood that's fighting the city's annexation efforts, York County Manager Jim Baker told The Herald today.
Residents of Miller Pond are fighting the city's plan to annex them in an effort to take control of commercial development along S.C. 161. Property owners had until noon Wednesday to submit signed annexation petitions to avoid having their utilities shut off. As of Wednesday afternoon, only 20 of the 121 property owners involved in the annexation had agreed to the city's request, city officials said.
The city will start phasing out services on Monday to Miller Pond residents who don't return signed annexation petitions.
"The city has created a huge public health issue," Baker said. The city's plan will leave many "people without showers and toilets, and we're going to have to address that."
York County Council plans to "weigh in heavily" on the issue at its Monday night council meeting in York.
Meanwhile, a homemade sign that was at the entrance of the Miller Pond neighborhood Wednesday was blunt in its insistence.
"Hold the line! Don't sign!! Stand united!!"
While a group of unyielding York County residents fights annexation into Rock Hill, city officials are still hopeful they'll change their minds.
Rock Hill needs 75 percent of owners to agree for the annexation to proceed.
"We're just hopeful that they'll sign," said city spokeswoman Lyn Garris.
City officials have said they understand the neighbors' concerns and hope they'll realize the benefits of coming into the city.
Termination of service
Though the city plans to phase out service to those who don't agree to annexation by Monday, residents aren't yet scrambling for alternatives. Some still hope the city's bluffing.
"I don't have a backup plan" for water, said Reggie Grigg, who lives in Miller Pond.
The streets in Miller Pond were quiet on Wednesday, aside from some chatter about how to cope when the water runs dry.
Bobby Mew has friends who might lend him a mobile home. He also has a swimming pool out back.
He's upset because he feels the city is using "unethical tactics," and that even the meeting city officials held with residents was a "one-sided affair."
John McGoye said he'll start filling bottles this weekend and looks forward to a resolution. "There's two sides to the story and somewhere in the middle is the truth," he said.
The city claims authority to terminate residents' services from an agreement it made with the neighborhood's original developer.
In that agreement, the city promised to provide utilities in exchange for annexation at a later date. That obligation passed on to future property owners.
Now, residents are refusing to annex, claiming they don't want to live in the city, don't want city services, and wonder whether they are legally obligated to agree to be annexed.
This week, city officials refused the residents' request for a 30-day extension to review their case with their lawyer, arguing that no extra time will lead to an agreement.
'A very difficult situation'
Miller Pond resident Mike Griffin has concern for his neighbors and city officials.
"Some of them are my friends," said Griffin, who serves on the airport commission. "It's unfortunate (the conflict) casts them in this light."
Some city officials also have expressed mixed feelings, including City Councilwoman Susie Hinton, who said Tuesday she was "torn" over the "very difficult situation."
The city's actions are justified, said Councilman Kevin Sutton. "Our council, our city, our residents are perceived to be the bad guy, and we've done nothing wrong," he said. "We upheld our end of the bargain. We abided by the contract."
Sutton said the city's policy provides developers building outside city limits with something they need - water and sewer.
Sometimes it's also more convenient and cost effective for the city, not the county, to provide utilities to county areas, York County officials have said.
Rock Hill usually requires immediate annexation in exchange for utilities. But in South Carolina, only property that touches the city limits can be annexed. That's why the city requires the owners of noncontiguous properties to agree to annexation at a later date.
Doing so helps the city avoid "doughnut holes" of county land surrounded by the city and assures that residents who live nearby and benefit from the city's roads and schools, for example, eventually become a part of it, city officials have said.
Meanwhile, another sign posted at the entrance to Miller Pond already offers something residents might soon need.
"Well Drilling and Pump Service."