Homeowners and business owners in Lancaster County’s busiest area will need to pay more on their annual tax bill following a decision made Tuesday night by the Lancaster County Council.
The council adopted a stormwater fee rate for all homeowners and commercial properties in the county’s northern panhandle area, from unincorporated Indian Land to Van Wyck.
Area homeowners will need to pay an extra $60 annually for the county to perform stormwater pollution prevention services.
Businesses will be charged for each equivalent residential unit they inhabit. That amount is calculated by how much impervious surface they own, such as driveways, sidewalks and streets, which prevent stormwater from naturally soaking into the ground.
Several parcels could be charged as much as $12,000 to almost $17,000 annually based on a storm utility fee of $60 multiplied by equivalent residential units (ERU).
The new charge will show up on taxpayers’ annual tax bill, according to Lancaster County Council member Terry Graham.
County officials say they’re adapting to new regulations they’ve been given by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. They say DHEC is telling them to register the area as a Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (or MS4) because the panhandle area was recently classified by the U.S. Census as an “urbanized area.”
$16,932 Possible annual storm water utility rate on one Lancaster County commercial property parcel, based on proposed $60 fee per ERU
As of 2015 Census figures, Lancaster County ranked No. 26 in the nation for growth. Most of that boom comes from families who moved into Indian Land area for easy access to job opportunities in Charlotte, experts say.
Graham said many businesses will get “sticker shock” when they get their bills, because they don’t have such an expense planned in their budgets.
Council chairman Steve Harper said the council built in a cap for businesses, which stipulates that an entity’s stormwater fee cannot exceed 35 percent of their assessed property tax.
“Hopefully, we can adjust it down (from $60) some in the next year,” Harper said. “The purpose of the program is not to tax people to death, it’s to improve water quality. Hopefully, this will do it.”
The county will need to hire new staff, equipment and supplies to complete stormwater work previously done by DHEC. Lancaster County projects that it could collect as much as $1.25 million in revenue from the stormwater rate.
35 percent Lancaster County Council chair Steve Harper said council members built in a cap for businesses, which stipulates that an entity’s stormwater fee cannot exceed 35 percent of their assessed property tax
By definition, an MS4 designation is a system of conveyances that include, but aren’t limited to, curbs, gutters, ditches and/or storm drains that discharge into bodies of water. The state, city, town or other public entity must own those conveyances, DHEC requires.
Some county officials say they are being “forced” into action by DHEC. Council members dropped the fee rate from $75 to $60 at Tuesday’s third reading in order to ease the burden on taxpayers.
The crux of the issue, according to County Administrator Steve Willis, is how the council decides what level of service the panhandle area should receive, and where the funds to pay for it should come from.