Growth issues remain a challenge

FORT MILL -- Keeping up with growth is the biggest challenge facing the Fort Mill Township, said leaders who spoke at the Chamber of Commerce's annual Fort Mill State of the Community breakfast Friday.

York County Council Chairman Buddy Motz pointed to the county's "Pennies For Progress" road improvement program and York County Forever as examples of the forward thinking that's necessary to stay ahead of the growth.

"We plan to bring the Pennies program back before voters in a new referendum," he said.

Fort Mill school board Chairwoman Martha Kinard said the district has been working over the past few years to build the schools it needs according to its 10-year plan, and has already approved funding for several. Just recently, the district finalized the purchase of a new school site, she said.

"We just purchased one site, and we're in negotiations on two others," Kinard said. "We hope to have a fourth nailed down by the end of the summer and hope to have a total of six by the end of the year."

Kinard and Fort Mill Mayor Charlie Powers used the event to start lobbying for a school bond package -- with a referendum likely in March -- that could be as high as $98 million.

But Kinard said the biggest question facing Fort Mill schools is how the change in state law, which removed property taxes on owner-occupied homes for school district operations, will affect education. If the new funding formula set by the state falls short, the district can dip into its fund balance in the short term, but long term the district might have to cut some programs.

The theme of Powers' speech was that the growth will not stop, and it's better to plan for it than to pretend it won't happen.

"I'm Fort Mill to the bone, but growth is not all bad," Powers said. "We could be like some counties and municipalities, shrinking up and disappearing."

He said the best way to deal with the growth is to strengthen intergovernmental communications and partnerships. The Rock Hill-Fort Mill Area Transportation Study (RFATS) group is an example of such a partnership that has been a boost to the area. RFATS money has gone to projects in Tega Cay, Fort Mill, unincorporated areas of York County and to Rock Hill.