A state Senate panel has advanced a bill that could potentially give South Carolina’s state government more control over mismanaged cities and towns.
State Sen. Greg Hembree’s, R-Horry, “Charter Review” bill was passed unanimously Wednesday at a judiciary subcommittee hearing. The bill would require those towns in South Carolina that drop below 300 residents to undergo an audit of services that are supposed to be provided and the taxes it charges its residents. Those that failed the audit could risk losing their incoporation charter.
Hembree said economic conditions, mismanagement and other reasons are to blame for some of the messes towns found themselves in, and he wants to make sure that towns are providing the services it is taxing its residents for. The bill would require the South Carolina Secretary of State’s Office review the audit and recommend to the Joint Commission on Municipal Incorporation if the findings are satisfactory or if the town is mismanaged.
“The bill was not constructed to crush small towns but to help small towns,” he said during Wednesday’s hearing.
However, the bill only advanced after Hembree dropped original tougher language that would have allowed the commission to dissolve failing municipalities if its residents are not moving to change mismanagement.
The South Carolina Municipal Association did not like that language, according to the group’s government liaison Tigerron Wells. Wells said there already exist three ways to dissolve a town under law — if the municipality drops below 50 people, a petition signed and approved by a majority or residents, or if the the Secretary of State deems it is not properly functioning by state guidelines.
“Our position as an association is that you don’t need any additional grounds for dissolution,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “To take away from the people the ability to weigh in on it, and for this all to be done to them, that’s a line that we couldn’t cross.”
Hembree did not specifically mention Atlantic Beach, a small coastal town near his district, but the bill could target the small Horry County community that has irritated Grand Strand leaders with frequent leadership scuffles and financial troubles the past few years.
Sen. Kevin Johnson, D-Clarendon, suggested an additional amendment that would give those towns which fail the audit a chance to submit a correction plan before the town is dissolved. Hembree agreed to the idea. Wells said Johnson’s suggestion is a step in the right direction.
The bill advanced to the full Senate Judiciary Committee, which could take it up as soon as Tuesday, but will likely wait until later in the month.
Kimberly Washington filed this report