Miller Pond residents have 10 days to sign and return Rock Hill's annexation petitions or face having their property seized as collateral until they sign.
In the order filed Friday in the York County Clerk of Court's office, Circuit Court Judge Thomas L. Hughston ruled in favor of the city in an ongoing dispute over whether residents should be forced to agree to be annexed.
The city is declining to comment, Assistant City Manager Jimmy Bagley said, "out of respect for" the homeowners.
Consequences for being held in contempt of court range from financial penalties to serving time, said Clerk of Court David Hamilton.
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Hughston also said Miller Pond residents would be responsible for the city's court and legal costs. He postponed ordering them to do so hoping the city and residents can reach an agreement without the court intervening, the order says.
The city has 60 days to make a court motion for the recovery of legal costs.
"It's disappointing," said Miller Pond resident Sherri Zimmerman.
Residents will have to decide whether to appeal Hughston's decision, Meggs said.
The city began efforts to annex the area just west of Walmart on S.C. 161 last summer. City officials highlighted the benefits of city services to residents and asked them to sign annexation petitions.
When residents refused, city officials said they were legally obligated based on an agreement formed with the neighborhood's original developer.
In the agreement, the city promised to provide water to the neighborhood long before lots were sold or houses built, in exchange for annexation at a later date. The developer signed the agreement, and the obligation to annex was passed on to homeowners through the document's language.
The agreement states that residents must sign annexation petitions as the city presents them, or risk losing their water service.
When residents refused to sign annexation petitions, the city threatened to turn off their taps.
The problem, residents have said, is they didn't know about the agreement - which might or might not have been included in the closing materials on their homes.
Many S.C. cities use similar annexation methods, which help cities grow despite the state's strict annexation laws.
Annexation in South Carolina requires the approval of three-quarters of all property owners who hold three-quarters of the property value.
The city's threat to end services if residents don't agree to annexation provides a way to ensure the city gets the approval it needs for an annexation to be successful.
Last month, Judge Hughston heard arguments from Meggs and Mark White, the city's attorney, on whether the city's decades-old annexation method should be struck down or upheld.
Meggs argued that the city was employing coercive tactics to secure approval from residents and questioned whether the annexation agreement was actually a legal, binding document.
White argued that the city's policy is fair and common among municipalities. To strike it down, he said, would be to stunt the city's growth and cause immeasurable harm to the city.
Miller Pond resident Anne Bland said she wasn't surprised by the ruling.
"For him to have ruled in favor of us would have taken a lot of courage," she said.
Residents should be given a choice, Bland said.
Bland and many other residents maintain that the city has treated them unfairly by forcing them to agree to annexation, imposing more taxes on them when they only receive water from the city.
"We are being forced to sign that document or else they will cut our water off," she said.
A vocal critic of how the city has treated residents, Bobby Mew wondered if the residents ever had a chance.
"The city has all the resources," he said. If the judge had ruled in their favor, he said, the city would "appeal us to death."
As to whether residents would support an appeal, Mew said he wasn't sure how long the neighborhood could afford it.
"Times are tough for everyone," he said. "I don't see how we can keep at it."