Editorial: New SC county would create confusion, duplication

January 31, 2013 

— EVEN IF residents in Ballentine, Irmo and Chapin have some legitimate concerns about their local governments, creating a new county is the wrong way to address those issues.

Establishing a new county would further complicate our already overly fragmented local governmental structure and create unnecessary confusion and duplication. It would become even more difficult to set effective public policy and deliver efficient services. A new county also would hamper existing cities and counties by siphoning away a portion of the limited state funding provided to local governments.

A group of community leaders in Ballentine, Irmo and Chapin, upset by Richland County voters’ approval of a penny-on-the-dollar sales tax to pay for improved bus service, roads and other projects, is shaping a plan to combine the northwest corner of Richland County and much of the northern edge of Lexington County into a separate county. For now, supporters refer to their proposed creation as Birch County.

Those pushing this misguided effort also are bothered that Lexington County is considering placing a one-cent sales tax on the ballot, largely for roads. In addition, some proponents of a new county are upset about other issues such as development controls.

In order to create a new county, supporters would have to get a third of voters in the area to request that the question be placed on the ballot; two-thirds of voters would have to approve the referendum. The U.S. Justice Department also would have to sign off on the process.

An adviser for the group points out that 56 percent of voters in the 25 precincts in northwest Richland County cast ballots against increasing the sales tax on Nov. 6. But it is a gigantic leap to assume that voters who opposed a sales tax would naturally agree to create an entirely new government.

Frankly, those voters should be wary of the price tag that comes with setting up a third county government that would duplicate what Lexington and Richland counties already do. There is no need and no room for another county council, another sheriff, another treasurer, another auditor — you get the picture — in this region.

This effort is little more than the rebirth of a failed attempt to incorporate parts of the Ballentine area several years ago, which some residents saw as a way to protect themselves from annexation and unwanted intrusion. They said they felt they had no voice and little support from elected representatives. While the push began in 2001, the matter didn’t make it to the ballot until 2008; voters nixed the effort to incorporate Ballentine, White Rock and Hilton into a town.

Had Ballentine incorporated, it would have done more harm than good to the overall community. The same would hold true if Birch County became a reality.

But that doesn’t mean that disenchanted residents have no option. While it’s evident that they must accept the will of the majority as it relates to Richland’s new transportation sales tax, residents have every right to hold local governments accountable and insist that elected representatives be responsive in dealing with their other concerns. Those elected leaders should work to address reasonable and legitimate complaints about issues such as growth and development.

Those still unsatisfied should exercise their democratic rights at election time and run for office or support candidates in an effort to bring change to the bodies that govern them. But they absolutely should not create yet another layer of government, which would only further fracture our too-fractured Midlands.

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