York County Council has pledged to help residents of Miller Pond if Rock Hill officials follow through with threats to disconnect water service to most of the neighborhood.
The offer came Monday night during the council's meeting in York. Dozens of Miller Pond residents showed up to ask county leaders to help them fight Rock Hill's efforts to annex the community. The city has threatened to disconnect water service to Miller Pond if residents don't agree to join the city.
The county's fire districts are prepared to truck in non-drinking water for residents' use if the taps run dry, said County Manager Jim Baker. County staffers also are working with the fire districts and the YMCA to provide residents with emergency access to showers.
Though not the best solution, county staffers also are exploring the possibility of extending water service to residents, Baker said.
"Even if we went back and provided that service, they could still be annexed by the city" and end up in a "worse situation," Baker said. If annexed after the county provides them with water, residents would still end up paying city taxes and receiving fewer benefits from the city, he said.
Residents would also pay for the county extending water to them, Baker said, though he's not sure what that cost would be. Some residents said they would be willing to pay.
"We're not unreasonable," said David Grigg, president of Miller Pond's homeowners association.
Happy with the council's pledge of support, Grigg said he supports paying for water service.
"We can come up with some financial plan that would still be less than what we're paying to the city," he said.
Resident Allen Straw also said he'd be open to the costs.
"These people tonight spoke like people we could trust," said Straw, treasurer of the Miller Pond homeowners association. "I would rather be a partner to the county" than the city, he said.
In an effort to prompt conversation in an otherwise stalled debate, residents recently proposed to the city three possible solutions to their conflict.
Grigg shared the proposals with the York County Council on Monday night. They are:
Delaying Miller Pond's annexation by 10 years;
Delaying Miller Pond's annexation until enough homes are sold so that 75 percent of the neighborhood's homeowners are properly notified that receiving city water is contingent on annexation. To annex, the city needs 75 percent of homeowners to agree.f
Giving Miller Pond residents a year to find another water source such as wells or the county.
The city says its right to annex Miller Pond comes from an agreement Rock Hill officials reached 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 down to the current property owners.
If property owners don't agree to annex, the city claims the right to terminate utility services. Residents claim they didn't know about the agreement.
The city had threatened to cut off water service to Miller Pond residents who didn't agree to be annexed beginning Monday. But Rock Hill backed off the threat late last week after the neighborhood presented its options.
Rock Hill City Council members talked about legal issues surrounding Miller Pond for about 90 minutes Monday night, Mayor Doug Echols said. Echols declined to comment after the closed-door meeting, and said he didn't want to get into a back-and-forth with the county.
County council members have criticized the city for using what they call unethical tactics to coerce homeowners into annexing. County officials have argued that if the city's policy is legally sound, they should let a court resolve its conflict with residents.
City Councilman Kevin Sutton said he recently met with a Miller Pond resident for several hours to talk about options. Late Monday night, Sutton said he hopes the city and Miller Pond will make one more attempt to resolve the situation.