Yemassee residents petition Governor for Beaufort County annexation

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"We don't want to be a small town that just dries up and goes away."

YEMASSEE, SC (WSAV) – Residents in one Lowcountry town are asking for a new start in a new county.

A petition filed by the residents of Yemassee has almost 150 signatures, about 10% of registered voters, asking the Governor to put the idea of Yemassee annexing fully into Beaufort County to a vote.

Right now the town lines are actually split between Hampton and Beaufort County already. The majority of the town population lives and pays taxes in Hampton.

Organizers say the services on the Hampton County side aren’t up to par for what they pay.

“We feel like the town is going in the wrong direction,” said Stephen Henson, who created the petition and sent it to Governor McMaster on Monday. “The more we looked into it the more favorable we found it would be for the Town of Yemassee.”

“We don’t want to be a small town that just dries up and goes away.”

Henson, who’s lived in the Town for 45 years, mentions a fire department with outdated equipment and that recently pulled the only paid full-time firefighter from the station. The town will have to rely on nearby Sheldon, in Beaufort County, for help in the event of a fire.

The majority of residents and businesses pay Hampton County taxes. Henson says some people and businesses have already moved out, or want to because they don’t see a change.

“Hampton County currently charges the town of Yemassee for dispatch fees which is $30,000 a year,”‘ says Henson. “They charge us $25 a night to house inmates with is about $8000 a year. They charge us for Animal Control. So the town, citizens currently pay about $4000 a year to Hampton County and all these services would be free if we become part of Beaufort County.”

“(One business owner) uprooted his business out of Hampton County and moved it right across the county lines in Beaufort County. All these things pointed toward Beaufort County being able to offer a lot more to the town of Yemassee for the citizens.”

“We know there are developers interest in developing subdivisions but it is hard to attract residents or potential buyers of property or spec homes when you have a tax rate as you do in Hampton County.”

“Previous administrations have looked at it and the option of going to Beaufort County and the benefits it provides but to my knowledge this is as far as its gotten,” explains Matthew Garnes, Town Clerk for the Town of Yemassee.

Farther than ever in part because of the Yemassee town staff, which first asked Beaufort County to look into the annexation idea back in February. Then residents took that idea and ran with it.

“The Town is going to be awaiting additional information on the pros and cons of moving to Beaufort County if it goes to a vote and the residents take it there,” said Garnes.

“We are definitely concerned and we would like to see what options would be available to them and us as a town if we go over to Beaufort County. There has to be a lot of fact-finding that is going to have to happen,” said Garnes. “Looking at the cost the benefit and initial outlay the town would have to do if it was to be successful and move forward.”

Henson hopes the Governor will do his due diligence, look at the petition, and give the citizens a chance to decide for themselves.

“If I get better service out of Beaufort County and my taxes stay the same it is still beneficial for me as a citizen as a property owner for quality of life in general,” said Henson.

The Governor’s office just got the petition Monday and has not set a timetable for any decision. Henson hopes the Town might here something in the next 60 days.

Here’s what will happen next:

The land included in the annexation plan, which includes the town and 7 acres of land annexed by Yemassee in the past few years, is surveyed.

Then an annexation commission, appointed by the Governor and including two people from Beaufort County and two members from Hampton County will oversee the entire process.

The town of Yemassee would be required to pay for any costs related to the surveying process and annexation commission.

There are no estimates on what that cost may be yet.

If those costs are paid, the Commission appointed and the petition is approved, Governor McMaster would then order an election where registered voters from both Hampton County (in the area which would be annexed) as well as voters from Beaufort County, would be eligible to cast a ballot.

If the vote fails, or the Governor does not approve the petition, Yemassee could not hold another annexation election for four years.

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