February 28, 2024

The Nerve Archive

Where Government Gets Exposed

State Agency Reviewing County Lines – Minus Public Input

State Agency Reviewing County Lines – Minus Public InputA small state agency that was given the power under a law passed last year to set county boundary lines has been working on projects throughout South Carolina, though local officials or affected property owners haven’t been included yet in the review, according to the agency’s director.

“We are still doing the research and field work on the initial projects,” Frank Rainwater, executive director of the S.C. Revenue and Fiscal Affairs (RFA) Office, said in an Aug. 21 email response to The Nerve. “I am hoping (we) will be able to start sharing our information and discussions with the local officials and property owners later this year.”

Establishing county boundaries is important for a variety of reasons, including determining where children go to school, where people vote, and how much property taxes are paid by homeowners and businesses.

A recently posted map of the state on the RFA’s website lists five areas where projects are being handled by Rainwater’s staff: Richland/Lexington, Cherokee/Spartanburg, Abbeville/Anderson, Darlington/Florence and Charleston/Dorchester.

In addition, Rainwater’s office also has private contractors working in the following seven areas, according to the map:  Beaufort/Hampton, Charleston/Dorchester, Cherokee/York, Florence/Williamsburg, Greenville/Laurens, Jasper/Beaufort and Kershaw/Lancaster.

The map is dated Aug. 20 – 14 months after a new state law (Act 262 of 2014) took effect giving the RFA’s Geodetic Survey section the authority, as approved by Rainwater, to certify county lines. The color-coded map of the entire state, which shows county boundaries with “inquiries,” was not posted on the website until after June 30 of this year, according to an internet-archives search site.

In a written response last week to The Nerve, RFA spokeswoman Rebecca Leach said although “all county boundaries will be assessed, consideration was given to those areas in which historic land research had already begun,” noting that research started in the 1990s.

She said the following three contractors were selected to help with boundary-line projects, with the amounts paid to date to the companies:

  • Cornerstone Surveying and Engineering Inc. in Summerville, $99,850;
  • Glenn Associates Surveying Inc. in Jenkinsville, $85,085; and
  • Concord Engineering and Surveying Inc. in Concord, N.C., $44,650

Leach said selected contractors are “not provided an agreed-upon compensation as payment is contingent upon the work provided throughout this continuous project.” The General Assembly appropriated $250,000 this fiscal year, which started July 1, for the boundary-line program, she said.

The three hired contractors were not chosen through a competitive bidding process, Leach said, but rather through the “large professional services contracts process … in accordance with and in conjunction with the Office of State Engineer.”

Asked about projected long-term program costs, Leach replied, “Program costs are dictated by each project, and, as I stated previously, each project has its own unique obstacles and constraints.”

Contacted recently by The Nerve, former Lexington-Richland School District 5 board member Kim Murphy said she questions why Rainwater’s office hasn’t yet involved affected property owners in the counties under review, and whether there will be public hearings in each case.

Murphy was removed from the board in 2013 after Bobby Bowers, a former top RFA official, contended her home is located on the Lexington County side of the district and not in Richland County, which she represented and where she has paid property taxes and voted for years. She has a pending lawsuit against Bowers and the school board.

“It’s going to impact a whole lot of other people,” Murphy said about the new law. “It’s just not me.”

Murphy said Lexington County’s mapping office didn’t know about the new law until she informed them about it. Contacted recently by The Nerve, Robert Croom, deputy general counsel for the South Carolina Association of Counties, said he wasn’t aware of any current boundary disputes between counties.

Croom acknowledged the new law gives Rainwater’s agency the authority to set county boundaries, adding, “Our folks have never really taken a position on it.”

In a Nerve story last December, Murphy said Act 262 gave Bowers, who retired June 30, the power to set county boundaries, which she noted he didn’t have before she was removed from the school board.

Sen. Ronnie Cromer, R-Newberry and the author of the law, told The Nerve at the time that Bowers had contacted him about drafting the bill, though the lawmaker, whose legislative district includes part of the District 5 school district, said it had “nothing to do with that one particular case (Murphy).”

In the earlier Nerve story, Rainwater said under the new law, Geodetic Survey staff would “normally talk to Bobby (Bowers) and would bring me the final recommendation” in a county boundary dispute, adding, “It would be my call to do this.”

Rainwater, an attorney, at the time said the law allows any party who disagrees with his agency’s decision to file an appeal with the S.C. Administrative Law Court. The law states when “all portions of a county boundary are resolved,” the Geodetic Survey section “shall prepare a unique boundary description for counties … and forward that description in a form suitable to the General Assembly,” which on its own could “adjust or otherwise clarify existing county boundaries.”

The S.C. Constitution (Article 7, Section 7) allows the Legislature to alter county lines “at any time,” but only after receiving two-thirds of the votes cast by the qualified electors of the “territory proposed to be taken from one County and given to another.” Rainwater earlier contended the new law doesn’t conflict with the constitution.

Murphy said before any county boundary lines are changed, a “boots-on-the ground survey” should be done.

“If they don’t find that line, they’re negating the vote of the people who established the line,” she said.

Reach Brundrett at (803) 254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @thenerve_rick. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.

We need your help to continue our mission of holding government officials accountable! As part of the South Carolina Policy Council, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization, we rely on donations to operate. Please consider giving today so we can keep bringing accountability to government. It’s your power, and it’s time to take it back!
The Nerve