It wasn’t a conventional debate, but it certainly drew a crowd.
About 600 residents came out Thursday night to hear the pros and cons of Indian Land incorporating.
“You have to convince me that I can get something,” said resident Dave Bartlett at the Sun City gathering.
Organizers with the nonprofit Voters for a Town of Indian Land said they took repeated steps to invite their counterparts to participate but did not receive a response.
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“Indian Land residents deserve to hear both sides and have a chance to ask questions to both sides,” said Matt McCusker, part of the group that put a vote for townhood on a March 27 ballot. “If you’re happy with how things are, vote no. If you’re not, here’s a plan.”
Organizers left two seats open and invited anyone in the audience to represent the anti-incorporation side. John Bauschatz and Larry Campbell took them up on it.
“We’re on the verge of stepping out of one frying pan and into another,” Bauschatz said of incorporation.
Instead of managed growth, McCusker said, Lancaster County “has given us kudzu.”
“We believe it’s time for local control over our money, our community and our future,” he said. “Are we going to have an industrial drive-thru, or are we going to have a real town?”
Several residents questioned if now is the time to incorporate. Supporters of incorporation say representation is a problem. Indian Land has two of seven seats on Lancaster County Council, while accounting for 60 percent of the revenue generated. Supporters also say zoning, land use and other decisions are made without the consent of the area.
“Our situation is exactly why areas incorporate,” McCusker said.
The reasons aren’t unique even in the panhandle. Van Wyck recently filed for and voted to become a town. Residents there said they didn’t want the Indian Land area — with different demographics and most of the representation in a new town — making all the decisions for Van Wyck.
Bartlett said knowing population projections is key to his decision for incorporation. The U.S. Census will release updated population data in 2020. If that data shows Indian Land has grown enough to gain two more county council seats, Bartlett said, there is no need to become a town. But if Indian Land would have to wait another decade for the 2030 census, he would side with incorporation.
“We’re going to get two more seats,” he said. “It’s just a matter of when. I can wait two more years.”
Richard Dole pointed to recent county taxes, rezonings and other decisions he says incorporation will change.
“No one else, outside of us, will be able to determine our future,” he said.
Another issue brought up Thursday night was costs. Some residents questioned how a proposed town budget, estimated at less than $8 million annually to start, would work.
“It’s a minimal town with minimal taxes,” McCusker said. “You’re only taking over what you need to take over to fix the problem.”
The plan is to add departments for planning, parks and recreation and a few other services. The town could contract out for police and fire protection. Advocates for incorporation expect it would cost about $50 for every $100,000 in property value.
The group points to state law that taxes only can increase 3 percent each year as proof costs won’t skyrocket.
But, others countered, it depends on the starting number.
“That (incorporation) package has no bearing, no legal merit, on what is about to happen,” Bauschatz said of projections approved by the state legislative group looking into the incorporation plan.
The town council or manager would set the budget.
“I do not think it will faintly resemble that thing,” Bauschatz said.
Resident Shane Murphy said with one side offering a formal presentation and the other not as prepared to refute in Thursday night, making a decision based on numbers is difficult.
“The overall plan going forward is asking us to vote on something that we don’t know what it’s going to be,” he said. “There wasn’t substantive information there that gave us a clear picture of what the costs and the structure will be going forward.”