Residents Want Light Bills Paid

Annexation Documents Missing

BLYTHEWOOD – Ashley Oaks resident Jeff Henry appeared before Town Council on Monday evening to inquire about a document he said he asked Town Hall for last fall but has never received. The document is the original annexation petition, with signatures, that was submitted by residents of Ashley Oaks when the neighborhood annexed into the town in July 2001.

Henry told Council that he thinks the document contains information that could cause Mayor J. Michael Ross to reverse instructions he gave last summer for the Town to stop paying the monthly electric bill for the street lights in Ashley Oaks. The mayor and town attorney Jim Meggs told Henry at the meeting that they have looked for the petition for months and cannot find it. They said they didn’t know what more they could do.

Henry said, by law, the Town must produce the document and sited S.C. state statute 5-3-150, which states, “the petition and all signatures to it are open for public inspection at any time on demand of any resident of the municipality or area affected by the proposed annexation or by anyone owning property in the area to be annexed.”

That statute also states that the “municipality must give notice of a public hearing . . . by written notification to the taxpayer of record of all properties within the area proposed to be annexed . . .” That the public hearing must include “a statement as to what public services are to be assumed or provided by the municipality . . .”

Henry produced an undated letter to the residents of Ashley Oaks, signed by Lorraine Abell, town administrator in 2001, extolling the benefits of annexing into the town and promising the provision of lighting and mowing to Ashley Oaks upon annexation into the town. He pointed out that the letter states, “Please consider the enclosed petition as a request to annex property identified on the attached petition.” Henry said that letter was obviously sent out to the residents with the petition and proves the government promised to pay for the street lighting in Ashley Oaks if residents annexed.

“If you can produce the original petition with this letter attached to it, then I think that is proof the Town government agreed to pay for lights, their installation, the maintenance and the electric bill for those lights,” Henry said.

Henry said the letter, signed by Abell, together with the signed petitions, constitutes a contract between the Town and the residents of Ashley Oaks for the Town to provide the lighting and other benefits.

At last October’s Council meeting Henry recounted that after the annexation and until 2006, the lighting and mowing for the subdivision were provided by developer Mike Shelly. After that time these services became the responsibility of the homeowners. The late M.B. ‘Pete’ Amoth, who was then mayor of the town and a resident of Ashley Oaks, agreed to honor what the residents said was the Town’s agreement to take over the lighting and mowing.

But during the summer of 2013, Henry said the residents began to be billed for those services.

“We didn’t get a letter or anything, just started getting a bill,” Henry said.

Almost 90 percent of the residents signed a petition saying they want the Town to keep the original agreement they say it made with them when they annexed into the town in 2001, Henry told The Voice.

Ross told Henry at the October meeting that he, personally, had pulled the plug on the Town paying that service.

“And I stand by my decision,” Ross said. “I don’t think it’s fair for the Town to pay for one subdivision’s street lighting and not the others. And the Town can’t afford to pay them all.”

“The Town made the agreement to do this if we would annex into the town, and the government should keep its word” Henry said Monday night, insisting that the Town Hall produce the original petition of signatures and any attachments.

Meggs explained that there were no such records in Town Hall, that he had spent much time over several months looking for the document. He said there are many boxes of documents packed in a storage facility that haven’t been gone through, but that the task is overwhelming. Meggs did agree to continue to look into it. But Councilman Bob Mangone said that wasn’t enough. Mangone said he probably wouldn’t have been “as patient as Mr. Henry has been.”

“I think that if we have to hire a temp to go through those boxes, then we should make a priority to do that,” Mangone said. “To just say we are going to keep working on it isn’t fair to him.”

The Voice contacted former Planning Commission chairwoman Bobbie Young, who was the primary coordinator of the petition to annex Ashley Oaks, to ask if she had kept a copy of the original petition before presenting it to Town Hall.

“I’m sure I have it,” Young said, “but finding it will take a few days.”

Young said she did not recall if the petition, signed by Abell, was attached to the signatures.

“But it could very well have been,” she said. Young said she hoped to come up with the copy of the document in a week or so.