York County leaders say the case against them and rising Fort Mill school impact fees doesn’t measure up, as the district continues to collect money it can’t yet spend.
A response filed on behalf of six current and one former York County Council members arrived Jan. 7 in York County civil court. The response follows a complaint by homebuilder groups and two construction companies claiming impact fees should be illegal and the one charged for the Fort Mill school district arbitrarily raised prices to create a de facto building moratorium.
What the response or any other court records to date fail to show is how long the case could drag on as the Fort Mill district collects fees, but can’t spend the money as it’s tied up in litigation.
A development impact fee is a charge on new construction with the money collected used to offset growth costs. The Fort Mill school district approved the first impact fees in York County. Rock Hill, Tega Cay and the town of Fort Mill also collect them.
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In December 1996, the county approved a $2,500 charge on each new residence within Fort Mill school district boundaries. After months of debate and public input, the county voted in July to increase the school fee to $18,158 for each new home and $12,020 for each new apartment.
Attorneys representing the Home Builders Association of South Carolina, Home Builders Association of York County, Shea Homes and Soni Construction tried to file suit with the state supreme court. The case was referred to the county civil court, where attorneys filed Sept. 11.
The state and seven York County Council members listed as defendants were served Dec. 20, 2018. Former Councilman Chad Williams is named, but he did not seek re-election. His seat is now held by Joel Hamilton, who isn’t named in the suit.
The Jan. 7 response was made on behalf of all defendants.
The county response states Councilman Michael Johnson, voted this week to be county council chairman, made a motion in April 2016 to suspend applications for residential construction in the county’s portion of the school district. According to the response, the motion failed, denying the homebuilder groups’ assertion the county then turned to raising impact fees as a “pretext for a moratorium on building.”
The response says University of South Carolina research economist met with Council in June 2018, but denies allegations the economist found issues with the impact fee calculations from consultant TischlerBise causing skewed figures for median income and housing affordability used to set the new fees.
The response denies many parts of the lawsuit, including improper motive and data manipulation to support a higher fee, that the fee is out of line with national averages, the plaintiffs are deprived “economically viable use of their property” and the county “effectively created” a moratorium by upping the fee.
The response states the plaintiffs haven’t made any claims that would stand up for a jury.
County leaders, who call impact fees a “voluntarily paid charge” in the response, ask that the case be dismissed.
The impact fee involves all new residences within the school district, including Fort Mill, Tega Cay and unincorporated parts of the county. Fees are collected when building permits are issued. From August through the end of 2018, there were 536 residences added within the district for $6 million in impact fees.
The school board in Fort Mill stated multiple times they don’t plan to use money tied up in litigation. The board also voted to increase the tax rate after stating publicly a higher impact fee would lower the tax burden on existing residents.