The story of a state line reads like a mystery novel – a detained shrimp boat, a video poker hall turned church, decades of federally disputed land and questions on the legal whereabouts of 3-year-olds.
If that state line story has a theme in York County, it’s South Carolina residents want to stay South Carolina residents.
“If I wanted to be in North Carolina,” said business owner John Malpeli, “I would have bought in North Carolina.”
Malpeli, owner of Lake Wylie Mobile Home Community and a water and sewer utility serving it, was one of about 20 residents who turned out Aug. 25 to hear how South Carolina might help them should they soon find themselves on the North Carolina side of the border. About seven of Malpeli’s properties could be impacted, as would his sales center on Stateline Road. At stake are higher taxes, new state codes, environmental requirements and more.
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“You’re putting a burden on businesses and residents, and this is something that potentially could have been handled well before now,” Malpeli said.
Setting the boundary
It cost South Carolina and Georgia $10 million and a quarter century to set an 8-mile boundary on the lower Savannah River. That process ended in 2001 and required Congressional and U.S. Supreme Court involvement. All because one state arrested a shrimper from the other.
When boundary questions in York, Gaston and Mecklenburg counties rose in the early 1990s, the Carolinas set out to establish a 333-mile boundary between them. The latest technology would be used, pinpointing boundaries that centuries ago relied on trees or stones that are no longer there.
“The purpose of the boundary clarification was not to draw a new line, but to determine where the line was,” said Emory Smith Jr. with the South Carolina attorney general’s office.
Still a 20-year process, the non-litigated task needed about $2 million. States began approving pieces of the boundary in 1998. A joint boundary commission finalized the line from Spartanburg to Horry counties in March. Now legislators have a bill in subcommittee to mitigate the impact of a new line for properties that may switch. Issues include back taxes, school attendance, utility service and property titles.
S.C. Rep. Tommy Pope expects the bill to come for a full House vote after the Legislature reconvenes in January.
“As a practical matter, this bill is coming out,” he said.
Who it impacts
Marti Sams and her husband moved to the area 21 years ago. They knew their residence, like four others in Hamilton Place, straddled the state line. It cut straight through their home. They were told as long as part of their home sat in South Carolina, they could be South Carolina residents.
“There was a boundary relied upon at some point,” Sams said.
The couple wanted to be South Carolina residents, and they opted to pay out-of-state taxes on Charlotte pension plans. Now, they don’t know which state will claim their property with the clarified line.
“If the rule is if some of your house is in you’re in, we’re in,” Sams said. “If it’s the majority of your house has to be in, we’re out.”
South Carolina had a bill that would let residents choose their state if the line crossed a home. North Carolina would not agree. Now, there is no clear answer for residents.
“You couldn’t have an election if one state wouldn’t accept it,” Smith said.
Frank Rainwater with the South Carolina Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office said most areas along the state line are rural and undeveloped. However, the York County boundary presents challenges.
“This is probably one of the areas that’s most affected,” he said. “The state line is where the state line is, but it does have impacts.”
Of the 283 properties on the York County border with North Carolina, 15 will become North Carolina addresses. Another 17 are considered “questionable.”
“Those are where the lines go through the houses,” Smith said.
The state has 44 such houses along the full border. Legislators want to figure out what to do with those homes, along with others they know will cross the state line. The problem is, South Carolina legislators can promise little to future North Carolina residents.
“That’s the hump we can’t seem to get over,” Pope said.
Gas station precedent
Beside Malpeli’s business on Highway 274 sits a video poker hall turned church and a gas station. Gas taxes mean higher prices in North Carolina, and no alcohol or firework sales. Legislators and lawyers from both states worked to grandfather the gas station in, meaning it can keep the perks of South Carolina residency.
Residents moving to North Carolina, or whose homes sit on the line, want a similar deal. Of concern in Fort Mill and Clover is school district residency, a major selling point for both areas. The subcommittee bill in Columbia states children enrolled in school can stay in their school district until they graduate, and still receive in-state college tuition rates.
S.C. Rep. Raye Felder wants to make sure a 3-year-old in the home gets the same treatment, so parents aren’t enrolling multiple children in multiple school districts in a few years. Legislators still have no answer to mitigating lost property value, since future residents would not get grandfathered status.
“We have to settle this,” Felder said. “Otherwise you’re not going to be able to sell your property.”
S.C. Sen. Wes Hayes sat on a committee that hammered out the proposals to help residents. He said during the Aug. 25 meeting that the biggest problem is the work should have been done a decade or more ago, before many of the property owners at the meeting had purchased land.
“If we don’t move, 10 years from now it’s going to be 10 times worse,” Hayes said.
Legislators may organize another public meeting by the end of the year with North Carolina representatives present.
“A lot of these questions are going to be up to the North Carolina Legislature,” Hayes said.
John Marks: 803-831-8166