If you’re a homeowner or run a business in Lancaster County’s busiest area, you may soon be paying more on your annual tax bill, according to county officials.
The Lancaster County Council may make a decision Monday to adopt a stormwater fee rate for all homeowners and commercial properties in the county’s northern panhandle area, from unincorporated Indian Land to Van Wyck.
The proposal, which has been passed twice so far by the council, would charge area homeowners an extra $75 annually for the county to perform stormwater pollution prevention services.
Businesses would be charged for each equivalent residential unit they inhabit. That amount is calculated by how much impervious surface they own, such as driveways, sidewalks and streets, which prevent stormwater from naturally soaking into the ground.
Several parcels could be charged as much as $15,000 to 21,000 annually based on a storm utility fee of $75 multiplied by equivalent residential units (ERU).
The new charge would show up on taxpayers’ annual tax bill, according to county council member Terry Graham.
“This is something brand new to Lancaster County,” said County Administrator Steve Willis following an administration meeting Wednesday in Lancaster. “We don’t have any historical data to base this on, so we’re admittedly going off of projections here.”
$21,164.23 Possible annual storm water utility rate on one Lancaster County commercial property parcel, based on proposed $75 fee per ERU
Officials say they’re simply trying to adapt to new regulations they’ve been given by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. They say DHEC is telling them to register the area as a Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (or MS4) because the panhandle area was recently classified by the U.S. Census as an “urbanized area.”
As of 2015 Census figures, Lancaster County ranked No. 26 in the nation for growth. Most of that boom comes from families who moved into Indian Land area for easy access to job opportunities in Charlotte, experts say.
“Some businesses are gonna get sticker shock when they get their stormwater bill because it could be somewhere in the 10s of thousands of dollars because they have a large area,” Graham said. “They don’t have it planned in their budgets.”
What moving to the new system would mean, county officials say, is that the county would need to hire new staff and add equipment and supplies to complete stormwater work previously done by DHEC.
By definition, an MS4 designation is a system of conveyances that include, but aren’t limited to, curbs, gutters, ditches and/or storm drains that discharge into bodies of water. The state, city, town or other public entity must own those conveyances, DHEC requires.
Some businesses are gonna get sticker shock when they get their stormwater bill because it could be somewhere in the 10s of thousands of dollars.
Steve Willis, Lancaster County administrator
There are over 70 regulated small MS4s in South Carolina, including one in Rock Hill.
Willis said Lancaster County is being “forced” into action by the state. The crux of the issue, he says, is how the council decides what level of service the panhandle area should receive, and where the funds to pay for it should come from.
“We’re suggesting a hybrid,” Willis said. “One with the basic management practices, but also includes some future capital projects.”
Graham said he would fight to drop the rate from $75 to $60 annually in order to promote a “bare bones” storm water approach. He said it was a smarter approach to complete what is necessary now on a smaller budget, rather than charge more to save for possible capital projects in the future.
The county council has a few options on the table. There will be a public hearing at the regularly scheduled county council meeting 6 p.m. Monday in the Lancaster County Administration Building.
26 As of 2015 Census figures, Lancaster County ranked No. 26 in the nation for growth
At the meeting, council members can vote on whether to defer the third and final reading until its next meeting Sept. 11. Some council members have said they wanted to take the extra time to look over the numbers.
If the motion to defer fails, Graham said he’ll make a motion to slash the rate and hope for the best.
“The business community should have input in this as well as residential,” Graham said. “I would ask people to take the information in the budget and think about the impact of that, to see what kind of level of service they want to see.”