Nothing is ever easy on James Island.
It took 20 years and four tries to incorporate a town that actually passed legal muster. And that only happened after the state Supreme Court explained to them what “contiguous” means.
Ultimately, they drew a small town that was perfectly legal, and the city of Charleston dropped its objections.
By that reckoning, everything should be going along fine now, but Jim Isle is at it again — trying to change state law so it can annex land not contiguous to its borders. Really.
This goes against existing case law, and could have serious statewide consequences. Which means there will be serious opposition, and not just from Joe Riley.
That is a lot of consternation and legal fees just to ensure 6,000 people can be part of a town that provides minimal services.
You have to wonder: Is all this trouble really worth it?
Mayor Bill Woolsey says everyone knew that it was his intention all along to get the band back together.
“I’ve made no secret of this,” Woolsey said.
The idea, he says, was to get a legal town incorporated, and then try to get back all the residents from its previous incarnations.
Can’t blame a guy for trying. Problem is, the Supremes have said that wouldn’t fly. So the town asked state Sen. Paul Thurmond and Rep. Peter McCoy to change the law.
Since they would get laughed out of the Statehouse for trying to pass non-contiguous annexation, the lawmakers have tied it to the James Island Public Service District.
It’s complicated, but basically the legislation says that if a PSD is largely part of a municipality, the PSD can petition for its other customers to be annexed. Contiguity by service.
Funny thing is, some PSD board members fear this is an attempt for the town to get into their business. Thurmond swears that’s not the case.
“I’m just doing what I’ve been asked by constituents who want to be part of the town,” Thurmond says. “This is not an effort to undermine the PSD.”
Rod Welch, a PSD board member, says they really aren’t losing much sleep over this. Most people, including Statehouse insiders, realize this is probably dead on arrival.
But that’s not going to stop James Island from trying.
The town certainly shows tenacity, and an indifference to rules it does not like.
In the spring it attempted to annex six non-contiguous pieces of land. The state attorney general told them to back off on four of those and Charleston is suing over the others.
This annexation thing is just the latest unhappy episode between the town and the PSD, which provides most of the services on the island.
Woolsey wanted to rebate local-option sales tax money to residents on their PSD bill, but the district wouldn’t do it — claimed it’s illegal for them to use that money. Woolsey says they didn’t make that clear.
Maybe that’s because the mayor has also recently criticized the PSD for raising its millage rate, saying it helps Charleston in its war on James Island. Commissioners argue that when expenses go up, real governments have to raise their millage rates.
Both sides here say they want to get along. Woolsey says the town needs to do a better job explaining the annexation bill to the PSD, and assuring commissioners that the town isn’t interested in the fire department and solid waste business.
They should probably take him at his word because Woolsey has enough on him. He’s got the PSD upset at him, the attorney general reining him in and the city of Charleston suing him.
For a self-described sleepy little town, James Island sure gets into a lot of fights. But they have proven the critics wrong: this isn’t a town that does nothing.
Jim Isle has shown that it’s pretty good at stirring the pot.
Reach Brian Hicks at email@example.com