Between the lines: Changes to the border between states leave residents frustrated
Posted March 4
North Carolina/South Carolina — Even though he’s only a few inches away, Angie Ingold wakes up in a different state from her husband Jericho every morning. She opens her eyes in North Carolina, brushes her teeth in South Carolina, and crosses back over North Carolina to make breakfast in the kitchen. Her kids, just feet down the hall, slumber soundly in South Carolina each night.
The Ingold’s home is one of a number of houses whose addresses could change following a revision of the established border between North Carolina and South Carolina which took effect Jan.1. Their house, which is located in a small community of homes on Sentinal Oaks Road, is now divided down the middle by the newly re-established border.
The Ingolds moved into their home, which was previously located entirely in York County, South Carolina, about a year and a half ago. Ingold said that determining what this change means for her family, particularly for her kids who attend public schools in South Carolina, has been confusing.
“The biggest challenge is just finding information--finding out what is happening," Ingold said. "Because, yeah, it went into effect January 1, but what went into effect January 1? The line changed? There's no documentation in the mail; we just know nothing. We don't have any clue.”
The Ingolds are both frustrated by the change and unsure what to expect in the coming months. And they aren’t alone.
In total, 19 homes switched states as a result of the change. Sixteen South Carolinian homeowners found themselves celebrating the new year in North Carolina, and three North Carolinians homeowners experienced the opposite. In total, 54 additional properties were affected, with the new border splitting their properties across the two states.
James Tanner, the Gaston County tax director, said the state will have to refer to old laws regarding residency for houses the border now divides.
“What is going to be that main decision is they go back to the old voter guidelines or rules," Tanner said. "And that's where the head of household lays down to sleep. So basically where the master bedroom is located in that property, whichever side that's on is going be dependent on where the residence is.”
The border legislation passed in both states said that residents who moved from North Carolina to South Carolina will remain eligible for North Carolina in-state tuition for 10 years after the change, provided that they remain on the same property that was formerly in North Carolina. Residents whose homes moved from South Carolina to North Carolina are eligible for South Carolina in-state tuition for two years after the change.
Gary Thompson, the chief of the North Carolina Geodetic Survey, said that the change in the border between North Carolina and South Carolina was not a shift at all, but rather a re-establishment of the original border between the two states, which had deteriorated over time.
In Gaston County, the land was surveyed in 1700s, and the border was established with stones at each end and a series of marked trees in between. In order to determine where those trees once stood, Thompson and his team relied on the original survey materials and legal documents such as land transaction records that referenced the line of trees.
“Then we traced the surveys up to today to find what had replaced those trees,” Thompson said.
The line between the two states has been contested for hundreds of years. In 1994, the two states each set up a boundary commission to determine where the border initially existed. The survey in North Carolina was broken into two parts—one focusing on the land that stretches from Jackson County to Polk county in North Carolina and the other focusing on the land between Polk County and the coast.
Thompson said the driving force behind the establishment of the commission was a parcel of land in the mountains that was being sold to both states. In order to facilitate the sale, the states needed to know exactly where the border fell.
Thompson said that although many properties were affected, 30 to 40 percent of the county interpretations of where the border should fall matched the boundary commission’s findings. The border between York County and Gaston County represents one of the highest concentrations of homes affected.
Although state officials promise the changes will be as minimal as possible, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper can expect a letter in his mailbox from Dee Martin’s grandson pleading on behalf of his grandparents.
Dee and Glenn Martin, age 88 and 90, live just a few houses away from the Ingold family, and their property was moved entirely from South Carolina to North Carolina. Glenn has a number of significant health issues, including pulmonary fibrosis. He spends most days at home, seated in his favorite armchair and attached to a tank of oxygen while Dee serves as his primary caretaker.
Under South Carolina’s healthcare provisions, he was allowed at-home visits from a primary care physician. Although the Martins have found a North Carolina doctor to serve as Glenn’s primary care physician, they remain unsure what kind of access they will have to at-home care.
“There is (a home-care) organization in North Carolina, but they can't come until we get a North Carolina address,” Dee Martin said.
She said she still hopes their new North Carolina physician will be able to refer them to doctors who will be able to visit their home.
Matt Wellslager, a manager with the South Carolina Geodetic Survey, said both states are working with their respective counties and the United States Postal Service to notify residents of an official change of address as soon as possible. Although many affected properties have officially changed location, they are currently receiving mail at their pre-existing addresses.
He said that for properties that are split almost evenly across state lines, residents will likely get to keep their original addresses.
Regardless of his official address, Marvin Rutan knows he will face at least one significant change as a result of the newly re-established border—an increase in taxes.
Rutan and his wife Judy are 80 and 75 years old, respectively. Like the Ingolds, his home is one of a number in the neighborhood that is now split by the state border.
“This is my tax right here. $21.78 (in South Carolina) for a year," Rutan said. "That's for the whole property. (North Carolina) comes up to $228 for the little section they took. That's a difference, you know?”
Rutan said that the states failed to consider the perspectives of those most affected by the change before re-establishing the border.
“Where they failed was they didn't come and say to everybody that's involved, ‘Let's have a meeting’" Rutan said. "And let's see how it affects everybody and let's evaluate how it's going to affect the old people. I can handle it because my situation is different…But you get somebody that's 90 years old, they can't sleep at night because they don't know where they're going to be.”
Although Rutan noted that there were a number of meetings in fall of 2016 at the local elementary school which residents were invited to attend, he said he didn’t feel that the officials made clear what residents could expect from the proposed changes.
Many residents whose addresses have shifted into North Carolina face substantially higher property taxes. John and Joanne Hawkins, whose mailbox still remains in South Carolina despite the rest of their home’s shift into North Carolina, face tax increases from the $26 they used to pay to $800 in North Carolina.
Joanne Hawkins said the increase has led her to begin looking for property nearby that remains in South Carolina.
Many residents question why they weren’t grandfathered into their previous status as South Carolina residents. Under the border legislation passed in both states, a local gas station that was affected by the change and moved from York County to Gaston County will continue to sell gas at South Carolina prices as well to sell liquor and fireworks. This agreement will only change if the property and business are sold to a new owner.
Rutan said the state should similarly enforce the changes to the border for residents when the contested land is sold to new homeowners.
The most fundamental element of the change remains one about which the residents have the most frustration and least clarity.
“We don’t even know what our address is,” John Hawkins said.
Although every county that sits on the border has been affected, Gaston County has been one of the first in North Carolina to enact these changes.
Tanner emphasized that, even though it will be challenging, his office plans to do all they can to ease the transition for residents
“We probably got five to six calls a day the last few weeks on ‘who do I need to talk to for these things?’ And if we don't have the answers, we’re trying to get the answers... or at least (point) them in the right direction,” Tanner said.
Tanner also said the change wasn’t about making the residents’ lives harder, but rather about fixing a mistake.
“(For) a lot of people, that was their question: ‘why change it now?’” he said. “I reckon it goes back to why would you leave something wrong. We don't do that in any other practice...in any business. If something's wrong you try to fix it.”
For now, residents remain in the dark about when their new addresses will be communicated to them, but they know they will have to take significant steps to adapt to the change.
“We'll have to do everything that you would do moving from one state to another," Dee Martin said. "Changing drivers license, the deed, change the address on the deed, change house insurance, all those things. (It’s like) we moved a thousand miles, except we didn't have to pack and make the trip.”