The Fort Mill School District wants more money from each new home, townhome, apartment and similar living space within its borders. More important, district leaders believe they can make the case for it.
“We are looking at impact fees, and the administration is going to present,” said Diane Dasher, school board chairwoman. “We're hoping for some good results, so we'll see what happens.”
That presentation comes Oct. 16 to the York County finance and operations committee. Fort Mill has an impact fee now charging $2,500 on each newly built residence. The district wants to up that figure to $10,000.
“That would help offset some of our millage, and making it to where all of these people that are moving in and creating all this need for more schools would be paying a little bit more of their share,” Dasher said.
In a tight window between the state setting up the possibility of impact fees and disallowing school districts to charge them, Fort Mill set up the $2,500 fee. For years the district had one of the few impact fees of any kind statewide, and the only one for a school district.
District leaders knew the $2,500 per residence wouldn’t be enough to offset the cost of serving new homes and apartments, but they didn’t want to apply for an increase and risk having the existing fee challenged or disallowed.
“We were approached about it (by York County), and the way they’ve read the statute they don’t think that’s a concern anymore,” Dasher said. “That's why we didn’t do it before, because we felt like something was better than nothing.”
Having county support is key to changing the impact fee amount.
“The county is the one that would make the final approval on the increase on the fee,” said Joe Burke, district spokesperson.
The county also is a major factor in why more money is needed. District students come from Fort Mill, Tega Cay and unincorporated York County. In the past 12 months, the district collected more than $5.8 million in impact fees. Unincorporated York County accounted for 51 percent, despite having only 28 percent of the total properties charged.
The reason those numbers equal out? Higher multi-family construction in the county, like apartment complexes, compared to the largely single-family home developments in Fort Mill and Tega Cay. An apartment property paying $2,500 per unit gets charged more than a home at an even $2,500.
Even if the current fee is quadrupled to $10,000 like the district requests, it still won’t cover the full cost of community growth. This summer the district passed a nearly $117 million budget. Roughly 20 times as much as the district brought in the last 12 months through impact fees.
In recent years the district came up with a formula it sends back to the county and municipalities with comments for each new proposed residential project, showing how the district loses money for most residential construction based on the services it then has to provide for new students.
With the district growing at 6.4 percent annually since 2002, leaders say it isn’t as simple as impact fees covering the cost of community growth.
“It doesn't work that way,” Dasher said. “We use it to offset millage. We’ve been doing that all along. So if we could increase the impact fee, that would help everybody out.”
The finance committee pitch Monday is just a first step. York County Council would have to take final action on a fee change.
The school district isn’t the only body looking for funding answers in a growing community. Fort Mill set up municipal, fire protection and park and recreation impact fees in 2015. Fort Mill Town Council set up a fee but voted not to charge it for transportation, too, because council members felt the costs would be too high on new business. Only the park and recreation fee in Fort Mill is specific to residential construction. Which is why the town charges it at the highest rate among its fees.
The school district fee doesn’t have to worry about impacts to business or non-residential uses. Decades ago when the fee started, there was concern setting up a fee would drive away homebuilders and homebuyers. With home prices much higher now in the area than when the $2,500 fee began, Dasher points to past concerns when making the case for an increase.
“There were people worried that nobody would move to Fort Mill,” she said. “But that’s not been the case.”