A town wasn’t born Jan. 20, but a group that could steer Lake Wylie in that direction was.
About 40 business and civic leaders gathered Wednesday evening at Camp Thunderbird for a Lake Wylie Chamber of Commerce sponsored retreat to talk about pros and cons of incorporation. An exploratory committee formed to gather details on what it would take and what financial impact the move would have for Lake Wylie.
The group includes 14 people. There are business, recreation and civic interests represented. The group includes voices both initially for and against becoming a municipality.
“It won’t be one of those committees that forms and nothing happens,” said Susan Bromfield, Chamber president. “That won’t happen.”
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Plans for a first formal meeting should start taking shape next week. The group will look at potential boundaries, cost and demographic data, anticipated services and other factors. Other local groups have looked into incorporation, some more recently or thoroughly than others. Some of the new group members were part of past discussions on what incorporation would take.
“Some of these people on that list already know,” Bromfield said. “There are people on that committee who are capable of getting that information and getting it fairly quickly.”
The committee can’t yet answer its biggest question, one of many presented to the larger stakeholder group Wednesday — what will it cost?
“Everything is about the cost,” said moderator Rick Jiran.
Potential reasons for incorporation include income from franchise fees, hospitality tax and other sources that currently go elsewhere. They also include more localized decisions on issues like zoning, land development and codes.
“Some of the vision you might have with a town, you don’t really see the follow through sometimes with the county,” said Tom Smith, former York County Council member. “You’re going to get more consistency. The down side for anybody is going to be the cost.”
A new municipal tax is a sticking point, as is the impact incorporation might have on fire or recreation special tax districts. Another is a belief by some that the county already should be providing the same services incorporation could create, just better.
Bill Shanahan, county manager, served on a three-man panel at the retreat. Lake Wylie incorporating has “never been discussed as a whole” by Council, he said, though on certain issues individual Council members stated a new municipality might better serve residents here than relying on the county.
“The Council has said more than once, you all need to look at that,” Shanahan said.
Council has one seat representing the Lake Wylie and Clover areas, among seven total seats. Three past Council members and two declared candidates for the seat in November joined current Councilman Bruce Henderson at Wednesday’s meeting.
Henderson said he won’t be “out there front and center and have my face on it” with an incorporation effort, but he will give his opinion if asked. Advocating from one of seven seats is difficult, he said.
“I think it’s not a matter of if,” Henderson said. “It’s a matter of when they will be incorporated. And I understand why. I understand both sides of the argument.”
In recent months and years Henderson pushed for a building moratorium, stronger development restrictions around the lake and a variety of similar measures that either weren’t or haven’t yet been enacted. Projects that have been successful, including county votes to spend money on an aquatic center and recreation complex in Lake Wylie, took far longer than Henderson believes they would have within a town of Lake Wylie.
Design and development standard control is one area where he sees major potential for a municipal Lake Wylie.
“There’s just a little more influence and weight when it comes from a town council or a town comprehensive plan,” Henderson said.
The Lake Wylie area wouldn’t lose its Council seat. Incorporation likely would add a mayor and several local Council members. Term length and similar issues would have to be determined still.
“You would control your own destiny,” Smith said. “You decide who the mayor is. You decide who the Council members are. You decide what is important to you.”
Weight in costs
Financial details won’t be pinned down until the committee looks at how a new town might operate. Incorporation requires at least three public services. One must be law enforcement, though the town could contract with the York County Sheriff’s Office rather than create a new police department. Stormwater management would be a requirement, too.
Costs would be vastly different for a town providing stormwater, contracted law enforcement and street lights than would one with full police and fire departments along with other large municipal departments.
The state only added two new municipalities in the past 30 years. Indian Land is working toward an incorporation vote now. Signatures from qualified voters precede state certification and a full community vote.
Some at the meeting will take more convincing before voting for an incorporated Lake Wylie.
“What will incorporation give us the county can’t or won’t give us know?” asked Perry Johnston, former York County Council member.
Don Love, chief with the Bethel Volunteer Fire Department, would want specifics on what incorporation would mean to the special fire tax district voters approved to fund his group. The county can’t collect a special tax in a municipality, though Shanahan said there could be ways of negotiating around Bethel losing funding.
“We created (the tax district) because we weren’t getting the money,” Love said. “If that money goes away, it’s got to be replaced some way or we won’t be able to continue.”
If incorporation comes to a public vote, it would be an all or nothing proposition. It would include all neighborhoods within the boundaries to be set. Residents couldn’t pick and choose whether to be included.
No one Wednesday spoke out in favor of incorporation regardless of cost, but many saw potential if the figures work out. Ultimately, the decision will be a large-scale public one.
“If you want more local control or authority,” Henderson said, “you need to incorporate.”
Neither of the candidates planning to run for the York County Council Dist. 2 seat took a firm stance on incorporation.
“It’s going to be the most costly approach, but is it the best approach?” asked Allison Love.
Doug Meyer-Cuno summed up the feelings of several on hand Wednesday.
“We don’t know what we don’t know,” he said. “It would be foolish to say we absolutely should incorporate or we shouldn’t incorporate.”
John Marks: 803-831-8166