LIBPA invites Mayor Mary Clark of James Island to speak at meeting February 9th

By Jim Hicks

Feb. 4, 2010

Mayor Clark, who served as Mayor of the second and third Town of James Island, came to James Island 60 years ago as a 17-year old bride.  In 1973 the City of Charleston began annexing property on James Island.  In 1993, the first town was incorporated, followed by a lawsuit by the City of Charleston, which resulted in the incorporation being declared illegal.  Mrs. Clark began to lobby for another incorporation effort after the first town was dissolved in 1996. She was elected Mayor of the second Town in 2002, but once again the Town lost the court battle and was dissolved in 2004.  After changes to South Carolina state law a third effort to incorporate was undertaken in 2006 and was once again challenged in court by the City of Charleston.  In 2008 the court upheld the legality of the incorporation, which was then appealed by the City of Charleston to the State Supreme Court.  Mayor Clark is currently serving her second term as Mayor of the third incorporation of the Town of James Island.

The Town of James Island is somewhat unique in that it does not levy taxes; instead it receives income from business licenses, building permit fees, and sales tax revenue refunds.  A portion of sales tax revenues is returned to the cities for property tax relief.  In regard to services the Town uses the Charleston County Sheriff’s Department for police and the James Island Public Service District (JIPSD) for fire protection, refuse collection, and sewer service.  Each resident of the Town pays taxes to the county and the JIPSD.  It should be noted that the town limits do not include the entire island.  There are approximately 22,000 residents in the Town and 13,000 residents have been annexed into the City of Charleston.

Mayor Clark has been requested to include in her discussion with our members the following:

  • Lessons learned in the transition from an unincorporated island to a town
  • What is the basic organization (council, departments, etc) of the town?
  • Is the public service district concept valid for provision of services?
  • What services does the Town of James Island provide?
  • Can the Town of James Island, in the long term, survive without taxes?

Chronological history of the Town of James Island

The guest speaker for the February LIBPA meeting will be Mrs. Mary Clark, Mayor of James Island.  LIBPA and the residents of Lady’s Island have watched James Island struggle to become a town with great interest.  Since Lady’s Island is also an island community adjacent to a municipality, which can and does annex portions of the island into the municipality our interest in James Island has been more than academic.

To provide a better understanding of the history of the Town of James Island following is a chronological listing of the highlights of the community’s efforts to become a town.

December 1992 – By a 52-42% margin, voters in James Island’s unincorporated area agree to form a new town.  The City of Charleston and three residents file suit against the James Island Election Commission, which held the special election.

March 1993– Town voters pick Joan Sooy as their first mayor.  The town has about 18,000 residents with Charleston County and James Island Public Service District providing most of the services.

October 1995 – A Circuit Court judge rules that the town was incorporated illegally by crossing over marshes and waterways already claimed by the city, but he allows it to stay in business while the case is appealed.

November 1996 – The S. C. Supreme Court upholds the lower court ruling and orders the town dissolved.

April 2000 – The General Assembly passes a bill that would let a new town of James Island cross over waterways and marshes already claimed by Charleston, addressing the legal problem with the first town.  The movement to create a new town soon gathers momentum.

May 2002 – Voters choose to form a new town by a more than a 2-1 margin.  This vote creates the second Town of James Island.

June 2002 – Voters elect Mary Clark as the new town’s first mayor.

July 2002 – The City of Charleston and two James Island residents sue the town alleging the incorporation was illegal.

February 2003 – A Circuit Court judge rules the law that allowed the second town to incorporate was unconstitutional special legislation that did not generally apply statewide.

July 2004 – S. C. Supreme Court upholds lower court ruling, ending the second Town of James Island.

May 2005 – The General Assembly passes a bill that changes S. C. annexation in that it reduced the number of residents required to incorporate if the area is within 5 miles of a municipality from 18,000 to 7,000 residents. James Island and Lady’s Island both met the new requirements for incorporation.

June 2006 – James Island voters choose by a margin of 3-1 to once again form a town.  Mayor Clark is again elected as the town’s mayor and the City of Charleston sues the new town alleging its incorporation is illegal.

November 2008 – Circuit Court rules the incorporation of the Town of James Island is legal.  The City of Charleston appeals the ruling to the S. C. Supreme Court. Mayor Mary Clark was reelected as mayor.

January 2010 – To date the S. C. Supreme Court has not issued a ruling on the most recent challenge by the City of Charleston as to the legality of the incorporation of the Town of James Island.

Editor’s Note: The information contained in this article was derived from a variety of sources but special acknowledgement is appropriate for the article setting forth the chronological listing of the Town of James Island in the January 6, 2005 edition of The Post and Courier.

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