Two new schools opened this week, a third is under construction and both local high schools are expanding – all to accommodate a rate of growth many Fort Mill Township residents fear is unsustainable. Some would argue the population is already past the breaking point.
We don’t think it’s gone that far, but we’re getting close.
For years, local elected officials have been hearing complaints that runaway residential growth is becoming too much of a strain on the school system and main roads. Traffic jams that used to be confined to city life seemed to have followed the thousands of transplants that helped transform the area.
Among elected officials, school board members are acutely aware of what’s happening. They’re the ones who have to plan and re-plan for growth, find and acquire land for new schools and ask the public to finance capital projects.
At a Chamber of Commerce State of the Community breakfast last month, Fort Mill schools Superintendent Chuck Epps and school board Chairman Patrick White both made numerous references to the situation. Epps went out of his way to say he’s not against growth – as long as it’s managed – before floating the idea that the district might have to call a referendum to ask residents to finance a third high school much sooner than planned. White cited some numbers that should make anyone concerned with growth shiver, even in August – 11,000 new homes in the pipeline that will bring an estimated 7,000 new students to the district.
That’s not counting plans that haven’t yet come up for review but are nonetheless on developers’ drawing boards.
“It’s what keeps the school board up at night,” White said.
At that breakfast meeting, it seemed like school board members and those elected officials who are positioned to manage growth as members of town, city and county councils may be finding a little harmony. Tega Cay Mayor George Sheppard called for a joint meeting among his city, the town of Fort Mill, the township’s three representatives on the York County Council and Fort Mill school district officials to hash out a unified plan to manage growth before it’s too late. Last week, we ran a story in which elected officials from Fort Mill, Tega Cay and the County Council all agreed such a meeting could be constructive. The hard part will be finding consensus on a plan.
One tool that may or may/ not be the answer, but seems to draw a lot of interest from the public, is the idea of a building moratorium, or at least a temporary stay on rezoning requests. The council members we spoke to last week all said that should be on the table during a wider discussion to identify all the available options. Since then, we’ve gotten feedback from residents who seem to be desperately clinging to the hope that action will be taken in time to make a difference, but are skeptical that anything will materialize from all the recent talk.
That’s where you come in.
Call or email your local and county representatives and show up at council meetings and tell them what you want them to do. It works. Officials often say their motivation to take action was a barrage of calls and emails from constituents. In this case, it needs to begin with that joint meeting, which should lead to another before setting a goal for when a plan will go into effect. We suggest that goal should be sometime before the end of the year. That way, 2015 can be the year of managed growth.
If you don’t know who your elected officials are, or how to contact them, all of that information can be found on our website, fortmilltimes.com. Just click the “Living” tab on the top of our homepage and in a box to the left of the screen select “ Local links.” If you still need help, send us a message by clicking on the Customer Service tab or simply call us at 547-2353 and we’ll make sure you get the contact information for the representatives you want to reach.
The statements by Sheppard, Epps and White created momentum that can become an actual movement. But only if you act. Do it today.