On March 20, the Fort Mill School District passed a bond referendum at $197 million. But it's a decision on May 21 that could, given time, generate far more money.
“I want everybody to be clear on this because there’s a lot of rumors going around about what’s being voted on and all this," York County planning director Audra Miller told her council March 19. "This is solely the Fort Mill School District impact fee that’s going on this schedule.”
The county is studying its own set of impact fees, and the existing one for Fort Mill schools. The county sets the rate for the school impact fee, charged since it was set up in 1996 at $2,500 on any new residence built within the district. Last fall the district asked to quadruple the fee to $10,000.
A consultant came in to study county and school district capital needs. Because Fort Mill's fee was in place, it hopped to the head of the class.
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“Because Fort Mill was on such an expedited schedule, the county agreed to kind of step back and let the consultant focus on Fort Mill School District first, so he’s been working on that,” Miller said.
Though the district asked for a specific number, the consultant study could determine the fee should be higher or lower. The county planning commission will make the first formal recommendation April 9. York County Council would need to vote three times in favor of the change. Those votes are expected April 16 and May 7, prior to the final vote May 21.
That timeline doesn't include the county impact fees.
“Solely Fort Mill," Miller said. "This is solely Fort Mill.”
As of when the district made its request to the county last fall, school impact fees had generated more than $5.8 million in the prior 12 months. Just one such year-long span in more than two decades of collecting the fees. Should the fee quadruple or increase at all, the financial fallout could be significant.
The district has thousands of planned homes and apartments already approved in Fort Mill, Tega Cay and unincorporated York County. Impact fees typically are paid when a builder pulls a permit for the project. Meaning those approved projects would have to pay whatever rate is in place when construction starts.
The school district may have started the impact fee discussion back in 1996, but leaders there are hardly alone now. Fort Mill passed impact fees three years ago that since helped pay for a new town hall site and are putting money toward a fire station. Lancaster County is studying fees for the high-growth Indian Land area.
Tega Cay brought up the impact fee discussion March 19, with a resolution expected in April to start the process in that city. Preliminary conversations with a consultant involved parks, police, utility and fire fees. Tega Cay, too, would have to go through its planning commission and council before any fees begin.
Tega Cay City Council approved up to $43,000 to study fees.
"This is going to help to fund a lot of the capital projects that we have coming up, so it is something that I will be supporting," said Councilwoman Heather Overman.
Mayor David O'Neal said communities like Fort Mill having fees on the books already will help in Tega Cay.
"So we really would just be following in the footsteps," he said. "We're not inventing new ground or anything."
New York County fees could follow within the year.
“We’re probably still six to nine months out before we have the report for the general (impact fee),” Miller said.
The county looked into fire, roads, emergency response, courts and the sheriff's office. Fire service likely won't be included, since there aren't looming capital projects after upgrades in recent years.
“Impact fees are for capital improvements only," Miller said. "So that means it has to be something that allows you to expand capacity to deal with growth.”
The capital part becomes an issue with roads.
“You can’t use it for road resurfacing, patching or anything like that," Miller said. "You have to use it to widen the road or to expand an intersection or something of that nature.”
The roads that could use impact fee money, may not be eligible.
“Most of the expansion, if not all of it, is on state roads,” Miller said.
There was some debate even in approving money for the impact fee study in York County, with some council members representing more rural areas where growth isn't nearly the concern it is in Fort Mill, Tega Cay, Lake Wylie and the eastern side of the county. There are ways, Miller said, to alleviate those concerns.
“You can limit fees to certain geographic areas, such as if the fees are for road improvements and all those road improvements are only in say the Fort Mill or Lake Wylie area, it doesn’t make sense for the rural areas to pay for it,” she said.