It will be up to each one of more than 300 property owners to ask to be annexed back into Dorchester County if they want to stay there. Either that or it will be up to the state Legislature to redraw its boundary line with Berkeley County.
That’s what is expected to come from a state demand to reconcile county lines.
A 13-mile-long thin wedge of nearly 3,000 acres would be transferred to Berkeley County. The new line would run from the counties’ existing line at Four Holes Swamp to W. 9th N. Street in Summerville. The revised lines could cost Dorchester hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions.
The boundary line dispute has stewed for 15 years. State geodetic mapping survey results in 2001 showed the line had been drawn to the north in error by a surveyor a century ago. Recent resurvey work required by state legislators would fix the actual line as law.
Dorchester County Council this week approved notifying affected property owners of the pending change.
The actual transfer could come in as few as six months after the survey is submitted to county leaders, but S.C. Geodetic Survey officials could say how soon that would be. Surveyors are doing the same for counties across the state and the Berkeley-Dorchester line is not a priority at this time, said David Ballard of the geodetic survey.
The only option for property owners would be to ask to be annexed back into the county — one at a time — something that would have to be approved by the Legislature.
The option for the two counties to keep the current line would be to ask the Legislature to change the law.
“From the county’s standpoint, this is the line. There’s not a whole lot we can do. If you want to stay in Dorchester County, we want you,” said County Council Chairman David Chinnis.
Berkeley County spokesman Michael Mule replied to a request for comment from county Supervisor Bill Peagler. “We are waiting on the results of a survey being completed by the state. Absent the results, we find it premature to comment or take action at this time,” Mule said.
When the issue first was raised in 2001, a number of the residents bucked at the notion and others didn’t know what to think. But it appeared to get put on the back burner and forgotten about, said Mike Joseph of the Clemson Terrace neighborhood in Summerville, where more than 50 homes and businesses would be affected.
“I thought it was stupid at the time,” Joseph said. He’s not sure what he will do now, but it might come down to which county his tax bill would be lower in.
The loss to Dorchester County could include about $200,000 in annual tax revenue, according to county officials. Both counties would be on the hook for the expense of redrawing various lines, such as council districts, as well as ongoing record-keeping issues in other areas. Chinnis could not even guesstimate what the cost might be.
“It’s going to be a nightmare, it really is,” said Dorchester Councilman Larry Hargett, who sat on council when the line dispute first came up. “Some of these people (families) have lived here for 100 years.”
The dispute reared its head after a 1997 survey — ironically requested by Dorchester County — first found the error. The counties’ leaders sparred over what to do about it and reached a tentative settlement in 2006 to keep residents in the county where they were. But “it was not settled. Berkeley wanted (the land) and they took it,” Hargett said.
Meanwhile, a three-century-old dispute over the boundary line between South and North Carolina had led to a joint state commission trying to get it right.
The original line was run 12 miles south of where it should be by surveyors in 1813, who according to the lore, had spent a night at a corn liquor still.
Because of the North Carolina dispute, the state Bureau of Statistics in 2013 requested a bill requiring counties confirm the state-county lines. The law extended the requirement to all counties.
Sen. Ronnie Cromer, R-Newberry, sponsored the bill hoping to help get the state dispute settled, not realizing just how many county disputes were out there.
“Truthfully, some of these lawsuits have been going on a long time,” Cromer said. “My interest was in resolving (the states’ dispute) without it dragging through the courts.”
Asked about the Berkeley-Dorchester dispute, he said it was the first time he was aware there was one.
Dorchester County was created in 1897 among squabbling political factions, after the state was petitioned by St. George-area residents who said Walterboro was too far away for a county seat. The new county was carved from Berkeley and Colleton counties.
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