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Boundary Commission Tackles Boundary Puzzles

The hard labor of retracing the boundary between North and South Carolina is largely done, after a decade of work. Now the legal and political maneuvering begins. About a dozen property owners find themselves almost entirely in a different state as a result of this boundary-clarification process. Lawmakers from both states are on a Joint Boundary Commission that hopes to minimize the disruption those property owners will face. Property owners caught in this boundary mix-up face the hassles of an interstate move without actually packing a box or changing houses: new mailing address, school district, car registration and insurance, driver's license - even registering to vote again. Lewis Efird is in the biggest bind with a gas station he believed was in South Carolina. "We invested based on the location of the property, tax rates, underground storage tank rules, alcohol availability - had this property been in North Carolina, had we known when we purchased it in the early 1990s, we certainly would not have purchased," say Efird. "That property has no value if it moves to North Carolina. The station wouldn't be able to sell cheap gas or fireworks and would even have to follow different environmental regulations. A handful of homeowners are in a similar situation and at this point it's unclear what will become of them. At a meeting of the Joint Boundary Commission Friday, Efird suggested the best solution would be to let the affected property owners pick which state they prefer and register that designation in the deed. Commission member Wes Hayes - a South Carolina State Senator - likes the idea. "Because it's such a relatively small number of them," says Hayes. "I don't know if we could do that or not, but I think certainly if we had an agreement on taxes or whatever else we could do something like that." Attorneys general from both states are already working on legislation to let property owners suddenly on the opposite side of the line send their kids to the same schools and avoid paying back taxes. They're also talking about offering a small tax rebate to property owners who've been paying higher rates in the wrong state all this time. But the idea of letting a North Carolina property owner operate - and be taxed - as though he were in South Carolina would likely run afoul of both state constitutions. Joint Boundary Commission members say they're looking at all options, but won't have a recommended fix for lawmakers to consider until sometime next year.