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Debate is underway. Now it's your turn, as sides are taken on Fort Mill school fees.

York County Council on Monday night passed the first of three readings needed to change the amount paid per new residence for use by the Fort Mill school district. The county anticipates so many people at the required June 27 public hearing, they're moving it from the traditional council meeting location to the McCelvey Center in York.
York County Council on Monday night passed the first of three readings needed to change the amount paid per new residence for use by the Fort Mill school district. The county anticipates so many people at the required June 27 public hearing, they're moving it from the traditional council meeting location to the McCelvey Center in York.

Fort Mill school impact fees are too steep or too cheap, moving too fast or still decades behind the game — all depending on who is asked.

Now York County is asking everyone.

York County Council on Monday night passed the first of three readings needed to change the amount paid per new residence for use by the Fort Mill school district. The county anticipates so many people at the required public hearing, they're moving it from the traditional council meeting location to the McCelvey Center in York.

That public hearing, along with the second of those three readings, is June 27.

"Because it is a public hearing, anybody can come and speak," said Audra Miler, county growth management coordinator. "They don't have to sign up or do anything ahead of time."

Not everyone is waiting.

"I'm concerned about the speed of which this is going," real estate company owner Tim Helline told Council at Monday's meeting.

Helline doesn't do business in Fort Mill, but is involved with real estate and building in the western part of the county. He has been following the impact fee discussion from the school board's request to consultant study, to county planning recommendation and now to council agenda item.

"There was way too many 'I don't knows' for my comfort, for the amount of money that is being discussed," Helline said of recent planning commission discussion. "This is huge dollars that's potentially going to impact a lot of people, and it's going way too fast. It's too big of an issue to guess wrong."

Fort Mill schools get $2,500 per new residence. It's the same amount since the collection of impact fees began in 1996. Last fall, the district asked for $10,000 per new residence, but officials admitted they weren't sure what the exact number should be.

"We have grown significantly since that time, far surpassing any estimates that were ever contemplated back then," said Kristy Spears, chairwoman of the Fort Mill school board.

Spears talked about the new school in the district, and four more planned in the next three years.

"We are growing by approximately 1,000 students per year, causing us to build and open almost a new school every single year," she told Council Monday.

Impact fees, she said, are a way to offset the costs of all those new students and school buildings.

"Up until this point our only option was to continue to raise taxes on existing residents and commercial businesses," Spears said.

Mark Nix, executive officer with The Home Builders Association of South Carolina, said the full impact of new home construction isn't being considered when discussing community growth. Nix looks at planning, permitting, contracting, subcontracting and sales.

"For every one house that's being built in York County, that brings back to the county $25.3 million in local income, $3 million in taxes and other revenue for local governments, and 359 local jobs," he said. "That's an ongoing effect."

Nix says new residential construction do pay for themselves.

"We always hear that growth doesn't pay for itself," he said. "We already showed, that's a surplus of money coming to the county for every house. That's including bringing standards and services up to what it was before. That includes schools, police, firefighters."

The planning commission recommended new homes be charged a little more than $5,000. Twice what they are now, but well below the more than $18,000 a recent study determined to be the per home impact on the school system. The planning commission recommended keeping the $2,500 fee on apartments. The recent study showed that impact at more than $12,000.

While Nix mentioned but didn't specify "inaccuracies" with the recent study. Spears pointed out it's the same firm York County is using to study its own new development impact fee. Spears said a recommendation of $5,000 is what the school district heard in 1996, when leaders settled on a $2,500 charge.

Spears said she'd like to see a fee this time "more in line" with the amount calculated by the recent study, which she says is "far more recent and relevant."

Nix cited recent impact fee changes in Mount Pleasant, where he said almost quadrupling the fees led to a 90 percent reduction in building permits.

"If you go back and look at the bonds that were just passed, (they) are paid for with one thing — the growth," Nix said. "If we take away 90 percent of your permits and 90 percent of your growth income, how are we going to take care of those bonds going forward?"

In passing the first vote, Council didn't discuss what the final number should be. Chairman Britt Blackwell asked for specifics on senior housing and ongoing residential developments.

The school impact fee decision impacts residents in Fort Mill, Tega Cay and unincorporated parts of York County zoned to attend schools in the Fort Mill district.

Monday's meeting where council passed first reading is one of many suggesting development will continue in the Fort Mill area. There was a rezoning of 40 acres to residential, though a project representative said there isn't a subdivision in the works now. The idea, he said, was to consolidate zoning districts.

"There are no plans for development," said Brandon Pridemore, vice president with Fort Mill-based R. Joe Harris & Associates. "There are no contracts to sellers or anything."

The agenda also featured a vote to allow a fee instead of tax agreement with RoundPoint Mortgage Servicing Corp. By Tuesday morning, the company announced it would invest $34 million and create more than 1,000 jobs in the Fort Mill area when it opens a new headquarters next year.

The company will be part of Southbridge Business Park at the former Knights Stadium property. Roman Vega, with RoundPoint, said sites in North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas were considered before state and local business incentives paved the way for a move to Fort Mill.

"The evaluation we went through to choose a new location was extensive and competitive," he said.

Want to go?

The public hearing on Fort Mill school impact fees is at 6 p.m. June 27 at McCelvey Center, 212 E. Jefferson St., York. Final reading is tentatively planned for July 16.

John Marks: jmarks@fortmilltimes.com; @JohnFMTimes
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