Areas of York County growing at a rapid enough pace to put impact fees on the table won’t get to decide whether to charge those fees. At least not by themselves.
Parts of the county — Fort Mill, Tega Cay, Lake Wylie — are growing seemingly by the day. Others aren’t. Which leaves county leaders with questions when it comes to one of the main ways of addressing the cost of growth.
“It is a part of what we’ve all said, (that) growth management is a big thing for the county and we need to look at all the options and the tools,” said York County Councilman Robert Winkler, who represents York and surrounding areas. “But I do have questions about it, and I’ve had some of my constituents address some of their concerns with me.”
Costs associated with growth include maintaining existing roads and building new ones, police and fire protection services and public education, among others.
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Chairman Britt Blackwell, who represents the Rock Hill area, said he gets impact fees as a discussion for the eastern half of the county.
“I agree 100 percent the town of Fort Mill, this really about the only option they have,” he said. “I mean I don’t see that they have any other option.”
But the county is bigger than its eastern half.
“The only other section that would even seem logical to me would be maybe some of the Lake Wylie area. And that’s it, in my mind. Certainly the south side of the county, around York, western half, would make no sense.”
In November, council picked a Maryland-based consultant to come in and study possible impact fees. Development impact fees are charges on new construction. The idea is for incoming community growth to foot more of the bill for public services it will then require. When the Fort Mill school district asked to up its existing $2,500 per home impact fee, the county saw an option to study both theirs and the school district concern.
At its Feb. 5 meeting, council approved spending $95,000 for its part of the combined study, along $55,860 the school district will reimburse for its share. Blackwell said he didn’t want to spend almost $100,000 on a study he would then just vote down, something he sees as a possibility if impact fees can’t be area-specific.
Council William “Bump” Roddey represents part of the Rock Hill and more rural areas. Where he wouldn’t expect growth to impact the county like it does in Fort Mill, Tega Cay and Lake Wylie.
“I don’t think the impact will be the same,” Roddey said.
People looking to build in his district could have a hard time with impact fees blanketed countywide.
“Why wouldn’t I pay less if I have a smaller impact on the area?” Roddey said. “That’s going to be a tough one to crack there, to be fair and equitable.”
Councilman Michael Johnson serves the Fort Mill and Tega Cay areas. The county can’t solve the growth puzzle, he said, until leaders know their options. Starting with money for the study.
“This is going to be a tool that I’m going to use to make a determination on whether or not we need impact fees,” Johnson said. “This is not a predetermined impact fee.”
Johnson, along with Councilwoman Allison Love, who represents Lake Wylie and Clover, said parts of the county that aren’t exploding now might still want to take a hard look at impact fees.
“If you’ve been in Fort Mill, Tega Cay lately, we deserve the opportunity to make sure that’s not recreated all over this county,” Johnson said. “And this may be the tool to stop that.”
Love said high-growth areas would have been better served talking impact fees before they exploded.
“It’s critical to start as early as you can with impact fees,” she said. “Not wait until it’s totally built out and you’re done, and all the people have gotten their foot in the door and then you start trying to put impact fees as a last resort. I hate that Fort Mill didn’t do something earlier.”
She sees it in her district. As Lake Wylie fills, Love said, growth will make its way to Clover.
“We are very impacted by development, and our roads, everything,” she said of Lake Wylie. “The school hasn’t cried out for help yet in Clover, but they will. I think the study will tell us. It’s the fork in the road, and it will tell us which way to go.”
Council members Chad Williams and Christi Cox served wide areas, from high population centers in Fort Mill to more rural spots near Rock Hill. Williams said council has been talking for some time about growth management, and it’s time to at least study it in detail.
“It’s all about making growth pay for growth,” he said. “It’s not punitive. It doesn’t discourage growth. But if you have an impact on our water and sewer, then the growth pays for that impact rather than the citizens. So I think it’s a good idea to study it. I think we owe it to our citizens.”
Cox takes the same view. Council set growth management as its top goal this year for a reason.
“We definitely owe it to our existing residents to look at this and to make sure we’re not forcing them to pay for costs that developers put on the community by what they’re building, and I do think we need to let this expert do their job and look at the situation and give us recommendations,” Cox said.
The county planning commission will work with the consultant, at least through April, ahead of a formal recommendation to council. Council ultimately decides whether impact fees are charged, where, for what uses and at what rate.