Robinson v. Richland County Council

Decision Date06 July 1987
Docket NumberNo. 22749,22749
CourtSouth Carolina Supreme Court
PartiesWalter R. ROBINSON and Harold Murray, Individually and as taxpayers, Appellants, v. RICHLAND COUNTY COUNCIL as the governing body of Richland County and Dean Hunter, Jr. as County Administrator of Richland County, South Carolina, Respondents.

I.S. Leevy Johnson and William T. Toal, both of Johnson, Toal & Battiste, P.A., Columbia, for appellants.

Margaret C. Pope, Belton T. Zeigler, William L. Hirata, all of Sinkler & Boyd Professional Association, and Richland Co. Atty. William F. Able, Columbia, for respondents.

NESS, Chief Justice:

In this Declaratory Judgment action both parties sought a ruling on the validity of Act No. 386 of 1965, S.C.Code Ann. § 6-1510 to -140 (1977), as amended by Act No. 499 of 1986, and on the validity of certain ordinances adopted by Richland County Council in reliance on those statutes. The trial judge upheld the Act and the ordinances. We affirm.

The Greenview-Fairworld Area of Richland County is a residential area containing small homesites. Many of the homes have septic tank systems which are undersized and frequently malfunction. The area has a high water table and poor soil. The septic tanks clog and sewage seeps onto the ground or the tanks back up and toilets, sinks and tubs fill with sewage. Richland County health workers have seen children riding their bikes and playing in areas contaminated with septic tank effluent. The area is seriously in need of sewer facilities.

In 1986, S.C.Code Ann. § 6-15-60 (Supp.1986) was amended to allow counties, as well as municipalities and special purpose districts, to impose charges on properties served by sewer facilities. The charges may be set at a level sufficient to cover operational and maintenance costs and to provide debt service on bonds or other obligations issued to provide sewer collection, disposal or treatment service. Additionally, a sewer connection charge may be imposed.

Pursuant to this statute, Richland County enacted a Master Special Sewer District Ordinance (Master Ordinance). The Master Ordinance set up a framework for the county to designate certain areas in need of sewer facilities and to impose charges on persons or property receiving sewer service in those areas.

Subsequently, the County enacted "An Ordinance to Provide for the Creation of the Greenview-Fairworld Sewer Assessment District ..." (Supplemental Ordinance). This Ordinance provides for imposing charges and issuing bonds to finance sewer lines in the Greenview-Fairworld area. Three (3) charges are authorized: (1) a "Capital Sewer Service Charge" adequate to defray the cost of building the sewer facilities; (2) a "Sewer Connection Charge" to defray the cost of connecting users to the system; and, (3) a "Sewer Service Charge" to defray operational and maintenance costs.

Taxpayers (appellants) argue Act 499 is unconstitutional because it violates Article VIII, § 7 and 14 of the South Carolina Constitution. We disagree.

A legislative act will not be declared unconstitutional unless its repugnance to the constitution is clear and beyond a reasonable doubt. University of South Carolina v. Mehlman, 245 S.C. 180, 139 S.E.2d 771 (1964). A legislative enactment will be declared unconstitutional only when its invalidity appears so clearly as to leave no room for reasonable doubt that it violates some provision of the constitution. Id.

Taxpayers argue the legislature had only one chance to enact legislation pursuant to Article VIII, § 7 of the Constitution. They argue once the Home Rule Act was enacted the legislature lost authority to enact any further legislation dealing with bonded indebtedness of counties or the structure and administration of any governmental services. Article VIII, § 14. 1

We believe this is an incorrect reading of Article VIII, § 14. Rather, that section precludes the legislature from delegating to counties the responsibility for enacting legislation relating to the subjects encompassed by that section. Cf. Douglas v. McLeod, 277 S.C. 76, 282 S.E.2d 604 (1981) ["Paragraph 14 (4 and 6) of Article VIII effectively withdraws administration of the State judicial system from the field of local concern."] Additionally, Article VIII, § 14 precludes the legislature from creating exceptions from the general constitutional and statutory requirements for an individual county. It does not limit the power of the legislature to create alternate means, by general law, for counties to exercise constitutional powers.

Article X, § 12 of the Constitution prohibits counties from incurring bonded indebtedness for sewage disposal or treatment which benefits only a particular area unless a special assessment, tax or service charge, adequate to provide debt service on the bonds, is imposed on those persons who will benefit from the service. The lower court ruled the provisions for creating special tax districts contained in § 4-9-30(5)(a)-(c) did not exhaust the power of the legislature to specify the means by which counties could impose the assessments, taxes and charges required by Article X, § 12. We agree. Act 499, which deals with assessments and special charges and not with taxes, simply gives counties another way to comply with Article X, § 12.

Taxpayers also argue Act 499 is unconstitutional because it allows residents of one county to be treated differently than residents of other counties. They argue the Home Rule Act was intended to make county government uniform throughout the State. We disagree.

"The uniformity contemplated by the Home Rule Act is the realization of complete local autonomy." Infinger v. Edwards, 268 S.C. 375, 234 S.E.2d 214 (1977). Implicit in the Act is the realization that different counties will have different problems which will require different solutions. To require all counties to use the same means of financing for local improvements would defeat the objective of achieving complete local autonomy.

Taxpayers next argue the means chosen to finance the sewer project are a denial of equal protection. They assert residents in the neighboring areas, whose sewer lines were paid for with Community Grant funds, should also be required to pay capital sewer service charges.

Equal protection requires a classification not be arbitrary and there be reasonable relationship between the classification and a proper legislative purpose. Carll v. South Carolina Jobs-Economic Development Authority, 284 S.C. 438, 327 S.E.2d 331 (1985). The requirements of equal protection are satisfied if (1) the classification bears a reasonable relationship to the legislative purpose sought to be effected; (2) the members of the class are treated alike under similar circumstances and conditions; and (3) the classification rests on a reasonable basis. Smith v. Smith, 291 S.C. 420, 354 S.E.2d 36 (1987). The determination whether a classification is reasonable is initially one for the legislative body and will be sustained if it is not plainly arbitrary and there is any reasonable hypothesis to support it. Id.

The purpose of the ordinances is to promote the health and welfare of the residents of the area and is clearly proper. Taxpayers' argument that neighboring property owners should be required to pay capital sewer charges is without merit. See Casey v. Richland County Council, 282 S.C. 387, 320 S.E.2d 443 (1984) (Assessment on residents who would not benefit from new...

To continue reading

Request your trial
27 cases
  • Springob v. Farrar
    • United States
    • South Carolina Court of Appeals
    • February 22, 1999
    ... ... 587 David J. Parrish, of Nexsen, Pruet, Jacobs, Pollard & Robinson, of Charleston, for appellant ...         Russell W. Templeton, ... We disagree ...         In Tupper v. Dorchester County, 326 S.C. 318, 487 S.E.2d 187 (1997), our Supreme Court explained the ... ...
  • Hospitality Ass'n of South Carolina, Inc. v. County of Charleston
    • United States
    • South Carolina Supreme Court
    • September 21, 1994
    ...bears a reasonable relation to the legislative purpose to be effected. See Brown v. County of Horry, supra; Robinson v. Richland County Council, 293 S.C. 27, 358 S.E.2d 392 (1987). holding an on-premises beer, wine, and/or liquor Because the defendants had the power to enact the ordinances ......
  • Brashier v. South Carolina Dept. of Transp.
    • United States
    • South Carolina Supreme Court
    • May 6, 1997
    ...the responsibility for enacting legislation relating to the subjects encompassed by that section." Robinson v. Richland County Council, 293 S.C. 27, 30, 358 S.E.2d 392, 395 (1987). When construing Article VIII, section 14, this Court has consistently held a subject requiring statewide unifo......
  • K & a Acquisition Group v. Island Pointe
    • United States
    • South Carolina Supreme Court
    • August 10, 2009
    ... ... a toll and turnpike road from a point on James' Island, in the County of Charleston, to Folly Island in the said county, over the route of the ... Richland" County, 303 S.C. 354, 356, 400 S.E.2d 781, 782 (1991) ...       \xC2" ... ...
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT