By Paul Gable
Myrtle Beach City Council yesterday halted its attempt to annex approximately 640 acres along the U.S. 17 Bypass corridor.
The attempted annexation included two residential neighborhoods totaling approximately 44 acres. To this was added nearly 600 acres of commercial and undeveloped property attached to the residential annexation by city officials.
While 25% of registered voters in the annexation area had to sign a petition requesting annexation and later approve a referendum by majority vote, the commercial property owners had no say in the process.
It was a bold attempt by the city to forcibly annex business property into the city, to increase the city’s tax and fee revenue, without giving the business owners any say in the process.
For several months, the forced annexation attempt played out like a Marx Brothers movie.
A petition for annexation was submitted to the city in October 2012, mostly signed by residents of the Bridgeport community who wanted the city to fix their roads.
The petition was not certified by city council until March 2014, by which time the commercial and undeveloped property was included in the annexation area. It has been widely speculated that the city needed the new revenue from the businesses to fund the road improvements.
It was pointed out in local media that there were various flaws in the petition and referendum language approved by the city. Some of the signees on the October 2012 petition no longer lived in the area by March 2014 and lot numbers listed on the referendum did not match the tax maps.
The city forged ahead with a referendum vote on July 15th and the annexation passed by a 56-24 vote.
However, after the vote, city officials admitted there were flaws with the referendum verbiage as well as polling places located outside the annexation area – a breach of state law.
City council voted to throw out the results of the balloting in a July council meeting. At the time it was stated a new referendum vote would be held based on the original petition request.
However, yesterday it was all called to a halt after City Manager Tom Leath told council the city could not verify enough names on the petition to hold another election.
If a new annexation attempt is to be made, it must be started over with a new petition. If this happens, it will be interesting to see if Myrtle Beach City Council is bold enough to again add commercial property to a residential property annexation petition.