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SC Politics

Mindless Municipal Growth: South Carolina Mayoral Race Highlights Annexation Issue

“The ideology of the cancer cell …”

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Mindless growth is the ideology of the cancer cell. And for many municipalities in South Carolina, its malignancy is becoming a political liability as well as a governmental one.

Annexation issues are front-and-center in the upcoming race for mayor of Easley, South Carolina, an erstwhile small town located in Pickens County in the Palmetto Upstate. Over the past decade, Easley has embarked on an annexation spree which has fueled significant population growth – and padded the pockets of those who manage its taxpayer-funded bureaucracies and public utilities.

The problem? Local leaders – many of whom have been driving around town in brand new Chevy Tahoes – seem more focused on raking in the spoils of this development than on managing it responsibly. As a result, vital services are being stretched past the breaking point – while hidden costs are being passed on to taxpayers and homeowners at a time when they can least afford to shoulder any new burdens.

“With unmitigated and unregulated growth on the rise, the people need to ask themselves who benefits the most from these developments being built and these properties being annexed into the city,” one critic of the current city leadership told me.

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At last count, Easley was home to 24,155 citizens – a population increase of 21 percent in just over a decade. A massive developmental boon has been underway over the last three-and-a-half years, with an estimated 2,500 new residential units approved by city leaders since 2020, according to city records.

The cost of this expansion is staggering – on multiple fronts.

Impact fees on these new developments amount to $3,340 per single family unit, according to a new fee schedule approved by city leaders two years ago. Initially paid by developers, these costly levies are baked into the cake of sales and rental agreements – meaning the cost is ultimately passed down to homeowners and tenants.

Higher home prices and rents aren’t the only consequence of the annexation orgy, though. There’s a fundamental lack of competitiveness driving up other costs, too.

Incumbent Easley mayor Butch Womack is a huge proponent of the mindless growth. He cast his vote in favor of the impact fees two years ago, and has steadfastly championed the addition of new housing units to the city. Womack is also a leading supporter of a controversial government-maintained water, sewer and power monopoly.

Earlier this year, Womack affixed his signature to a new intergovernmental agreement which requires Easley to purchase all of its water, sewer and electricity services from Easley Combined Utilities (ECU). Not only that, the agreement obligated the city to deny “any other person or entity the right to provide water, sewer, or electricity services within the city limits of Easley.”

Seeing the outlines of this scam? It’s a city-driven monopoly – one both the city and the utility are intent on expanding.

(Click to View)

Easley Combined Utilities (Facebook)

Just to make sure there was no confusion as to the objective of this ongoing land grab, ECU vowed in its latest agreement (.pdf) with the city “to not furnish electricity, water or sewer service to any residence, business or industry which is located on property contiguous to the boundaries of the city of Easley without the owner of the property first filing a petition for annexation into the Easley city limits.”

In other words, “be annexed, or else.”

Womack signed the latest iteration of this agreement in February of this year, which not only cemented the self-perpetuating monopoly but is also likely to expose city taxpayers to new debt at the behest of the utility. Specifically, the agreement obliged city government to “consider (the) enactment of any bond ordinance as ECU may, from time to time, request the city council to enact.”

His top opponent in next month’s race, businessman David Cox, is campaigning against excessive annexation – vowing to “stop (the) over-development of Easley and implement responsible growth policy.”

“Annexation shouldn’t be rammed down your throat,” Cox said at a recent mayoral debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Pickens and Oconee counties.

Earlier this month, Cox campaigned on a busy highway in Easley – a thoroughfare where residents have “expressed their frustration and apprehension about the surge in traffic mainly attributed to new housing developments.”

(Click to View)

Easley, S.C. mayoral candidate David Cox (Facebook)

Citing the marked increase in accidents and congestion, Cox urged passing motorists to “take a stand against overdevelopment.”

A third candidate in the race – Lisa Talbot – claims to support “smart and responsible growth” for the community, however she failed to show up for two scheduled debates and appears to be woefully unqualified for the post.

As voters get ready to go to the polls, they are clearly waking up to the threat this ongoing, reckless overdevelopment is posing to their community.

“What is happening in Easley is not progress,” one resident told reporter Chloe Salsameda of WSPA TV-7 (CBS – Greenville/ Spartanburg) earlier this year. “It is a nightmare. Enough is enough. No one wants more development in Easley. I have had several people tell me they plan to sell their homes and move out of Easley because they can’t stand to live here anymore.”

We are also informed several members of the S.C. General Assembly are looking at the current situation in Pickens County as a case study in mindless growth – prompting them to revisit state laws governing municipal annexation authority.

Easley holds its mayoral election on Tuesday, November 7, 2023. Early voting in that race – and municipal elections across the state – begins next Monday (October 23, 2023) and runs through Friday, November 3, 2023.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Will Folks (Dylan Nolan)

Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven (soon to be eight) children.

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11 comments

Anonymous October 20, 2023 at 11:21 pm

There is SO MUCH irresponsible growth being approved by politicians in South Carolina. The Berkeley, Dorchester and Charleston County citizens are definitely going to “pay” in the future for this irresponsible growth.

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Flossip Top fan October 21, 2023 at 6:46 pm

It’s also happening in Florence County. Neither the City or County governments can tell a single developer “No”. They have brought up every square inch of land they can and seem to be in a contest as to how many houses they can fit onto a single acre of land. Meanwhile, the city water system (which serves the county too) has planned massive fee increases to finance improvements to the water system so an electric car battery plant can be built, which will require millions of gallons of water a day. The problem with that is the current water system is prone to frequent breaks and constant complaints regarding brown or dirty water or no water at all. And the county customers are being asked to shoulder more of the share of the improvements than their city counterparts. Why? Exactly? Oh, right, so they can give money to a city-owned non-profit org which helps people who can’t pay their water bills, pay their water bills. Oh, and you can always donate up to this little nonprofit too to help these poor deadbeats. Interestingly, the city has also opted themselves out of any kind of formal monitoring of the safety and quality of the water system, so how long before we find out we’ve been drinking highly polluted water? The strain on the resources and infrastructure were already at a breaking point long before this ridiculous influx of new residents and the monopolies these good ole’ boys have on water/sewer and other utilities is just corruption and greed on top of an absolute cavalier regard to actual capacity.

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freddie Molaro October 22, 2023 at 12:13 pm

The candidate this one-sided article is promoting has had a change.org petition filed to have his business license revoked due to financial hardship on those that did work for him. Over 100 people signed this petition. The person that initiated the petition shared the change.org post was closed due to a cease and desist letter received from this candidate. If interested in facts, look up change.org with the name of david a cox and you can see if for yourself. there is much history with this person and it is not what the city of Easley needs. One tyrant is enough.

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Anonymous October 21, 2023 at 5:52 pm

You should probably check the meeting minutes and voting record for David Cox as a member of the county planning commission. He hasn’t spoken out about development in the county until he decided to run for mayor. Also look into how many llc’s he has. What’s the reason for all those llc’s. Why does he claim to. E a developer on LinkedIn or at least he did previously. Also asking him about his previous views on illegal aliens un SC.. He ran for state house against Neil Collins and by his on words wanted to fast track illegal aliens as well as block any state agencies from helping the federal gouverment from deporting them. You should really do you homework before voting or writing an article blindly

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Anonymous October 21, 2023 at 6:10 pm

You also may want to look into his company vision holdings LLC vs certs bank. I don’t think this is the person to lead easley. I suggest you do your homework

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anonymous October 22, 2023 at 12:23 pm

there are two sources worth visiting. go to the secretary of state business search website, click on registered agent search, type in david cox, david a cox. there are 9 on one search, 1,2,4,5,26,28,30,32,33 & 4 on the other, 4, 6, 9, 10. Those are the ones in his name, not family and business associates. There isn’t anything wrong with having LLC’s. A majority of these will show, the candidate owns over 30+ properties in Pickens County. The business his wife runs is Community Property Management. Some have asked if this is a conflict of interest. HOMEWORK IS THE KEY!!!

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Debbie Davenport October 22, 2023 at 10:36 am

You may want to check out the complaint and request for license revocation on Change.org concerning David Cox not paying his Contractors for services rendered. Also, his LLC’S can be located by his name as agent, then cross reference those LLC’s with tax and county court records to show poor homes with many evictions. He also recently stated publicly that employees of his would feel his foot on their neck if their job performance was not to his satisfaction. In addition, he describes himself as a real estate developer. Not what we need in Easley, South Carolina.

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Ralph Hightower Top fan October 22, 2023 at 4:24 pm

Former Columbia, Mayor Bob (Coble), used shoestring annexation via railroad tracks to annexation the lucrative Harbison Blvd, and Columbiana Mall.

Lexington mayor, Steve McDougall used “eyeball annexation”, since there was no contiguous land, to annex the Smallwood Cove on Lake Murray. The Smallwood Cove development was withdrawn due to public backlash.

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Easley Express October 22, 2023 at 11:40 pm

That David Cox is so great. Honesty has been such an issue in Easley’s mayor election and he has proven to be the best man for the job. We sure do hope he outshines those other two candidates as we certainly have seen the one is truly “woefully unqualified”. Thanks fitsnews for taking such a special interest in our little town of Ealsey. These issues have needed to be addressed properly for a long time. All these other commenters are wildly wrong and biased, but you really nailed it. Thank you for making Easley citizens informed and helping them get back on track.

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Anonymous October 24, 2023 at 9:14 am

Good Lord Will, have you no shame? I’m going to assume David Cox is now the proud owner of 200 subscriptions to your publication. I can’t even lol

Reply
Riley October 24, 2023 at 2:48 pm

The commentor “Easley Express” is NOT ASSOCIATED with the website easleyexpress.com and DOES NOT represent the opinions of those affiliated with the Easley Express website. The Easley Express website only posts facts which can be verified. The statement “woefully unqualified” is not a fact as the article did not have any supporting documentation for that egregious error. And stating ‘he has proven to be the best man for the job’ is not factual either. What proof has been shown to back that up? Commnets from “Easley Express” should be ignored as this person is as fake as the name used to comment.

Reply

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