The cost of new homes and apartments in the Fort Mill area is going up. So, too, is funding for Fort Mill schools.
York County Council voted earlier this month night to increase fees for new development within the Fort Mill School District to $18,158 for each new home and $12,020 per new apartment. The costs, called an impact fee, will help the school district offset growth costs.
“If any district in the nation deserves an impact fee, it’s Fort Mill with all their growth,” said Chairman Britt Blackwell.
Blackwell said he had concerns with legal, tax and other issues regarding the fees in general. Ultimately it came down to the explosive community growth Fort Mill is experiencing.
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“Understanding the need Fort Mill has...it was just obvious to me,” Blackwell said.
Councilman William “Bump” Roddey cast the single vote against the increased fees on Monday. He instead asked to set the new home fee at $10,000 for a year and work up toward the higher amount in 18 months.
“I do support the impact fees,” Roddey said. “I just think the $18,158 right now is not the way to go.”
Initially, the school district threw out a proposed figure at $10,000 per new home. A later study showed the fee could be as high as the more than $18,000 amount.
Roddey likened approving the higher amount to the price of a home increasing just because a buyer gets pre-approved for more money.
“Just because the money’s on the table doesn’t mean we have to go get it right now,” Roddey said.
Councilman Michael Johnson, who represents Tega Cay and part of Fort Mill, said the higher figure is a truer amount. A consultant came up with the higher amount using state law that says what can be allowed to help pay for growth costs.
“It’s the cost to educate children in the Fort Mill School District,” Johnson said. “It’s the cost that I pay, and that every person who lives in the Fort Mill School District pays.”
Johnson isn’t bothered that the school district initially asked for just $10,000 per new home.
“It was an educated guess,” he said. “Then they hired an expert.”
A school impact fee has been charged in Fort Mill since 1996. However, the fee hasn’t changed from the original $2,500 per new residence.
The recent push for a higher impact fee began last fall, when the school district asked for $10,000 per home or apartment.
District leaders argued $2,500 wasn’t enough to cover the high cost of new schools educating more students amid extreme population growth. A higher fee, they argued, would mean less of a financial impact to existing residents and business owners through bond referendums and tax increases.
The county hired a consultant to study the school district fee along with its own, separate impact fee proposal, which is still in discussions. The consultant recommended fees even higher than the district requested.
The county planning commission recommended only doubling the fee on homes,to $5,000,and leaving it at $2,500 on apartments.
State home builder and real estate groups opposed an impact fee increase. Those groups argued higher fees will price many out of the housing market in the district, or make it more difficult to build and sell homes.
In June, hundreds of residents poured into a York theater for a public hearing. Most of them supported higher impact fees. Council ultimately voted 5-2 in favor of the increases.
The fees begin immediately. They are charged on new construction only, when building permits are issued. The school district fee applies to any residential construction within school district boundaries, including Fort Mill, Tega Cay and unincorporated parts of York County.
Scott Couchenour is a small business owner who lives in the Whiteville Park area of Fort Mill. Within walking distance of downtown, Couchenour said he sees homes all around him that remain affordable.
“There are affordable houses in the Fort Mill area,” he said.
Because much of school funding falls on the business community through taxes, Couchenour said he sees reason to support the higher fees.
“I think it is growth paying for growth,” he said, “and it’s definitely going to help small businesses.”