Lancaster County leaders say they’re interested in having newcomers help pay for fast-growing needs in Indian Land and are considering their options.
“We’re definitely looking at how to put some of that cost on the new folks coming in, because they’re the ones that are causing the issues with increased capacity,” said Lancaster County Councilman Brian Carnes. “I think council’s ready to move on something.”
One option is development impact fees. This fee for new construction already is being charged in Fort Mill, Tega Cay, Rock Hill and parts of York County in the Fort Mill school district.
“Everybody that I’ve talked to has been for them because it doesn’t affect the existing people,” Carnes said. “It affects the people coming in.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Herald
Lancaster County studied impact fees last year in four parts for fire, EMS, library and recreation fees in the Indian Land panhandle. The study considered money for three fire stations, EMS station and four ambulances, Del Webb Library expansion and Indian Land recreation center expansion with practice fields.
County manager Steve Willis on Jan. 14 told Lancaster County Council the outlook has changed since the study was done. County voters in the fall approved a $19 million bond package for recreation, which included the Indian Land project. The county bought property with funding from a development agreement for an EMS station on Old Bailes Road. The library board moved forward with expansion plans using capital project sales tax money.
“We basically kind of have to step back,” Willis said. “It’ll shrink the overall scope of the impact fees, where it’ll be public safety in nature only.
Willis cautioned impact fees only pay a portion of the price needed for new facilities and services to keep up with growth.
“Impact fees are not a panacea to solve all problems,” Willis said. “It can’t correct the sins of the past on newcomers. It’s not just a simple, quick fix.”
But there are other options, such as development agreements. A developer can commit money or property for certain uses, usually in return for a preferable zoning, annexation or building density change. That’s how Indian Land got its EMS site and Fort Mill got land for the coming Banks Athletic Park.
Another option is capital sales tax, such as Pennies for Progress in York County to pay for roads.
“The growth is a problem,” Willis said. “It’s a better problem than if we were one of 22 counties in South Carolina that are shrinking in population. There’s a whole host of problems. I’ll take ours.”
Impact fees have become part of growth management discussions throughout the area, specifically since Fort Mill started charging its fees in 2015. Some favor impact fees charged only on new construction versus bonds or tax increases that cost existing residents, too. Some worry impact fees deter commercial growth.
Lancaster County reworked its ordinance combining rules for development, from zoning to density to code. Carnes said changes to allow more homes per acre make it harder to get much from developers now through development agreements.
“There’s really not a whole lot of negotiating room,” he said.
It likely will be spring before Council sees a proposed ordinance for impact fees.
“If it goes well and we like the concept, we can always go back and expand it in the future,” Willis said.
Impact fee concerns
The potential impact on new business is the most common hangup for communities considering impact fees. It’s why Fort Mill has a transportation fee to fund roads, but charges nothing for it due to its commercial-heavy cost. Last summer, Tega Cay leaders worked through the business question as they passed new fees. Tega Cay was seeing 14 new homes built in the city each month.
Tega Cay city manager Charlie Funderburk said Thursday that construction has been slowed — about $209,000 has been collected since August — because of the rain across the region.
“We are anticipating a significant uptick starting this spring and carrying forward over the next several years,” he said.
A more recent concern is legal. When York County Council voted in summer to increase the fee for the Fort Mill school district, prompting a legal challenge by state and county homebuilder groups and two homebuilders. They argue the fees is “illegal, unconstitutional and without force of law.”
“The act is overbroad and vague and sets no limit to the amount of impact fees a governmental entity can charge,” the filing states.
Lancaster County officials have brought up the idea of bringing on expert legal counsel if leaders move forward with impact fees.
The stretch of York and Lancaster counties from Lake Wylie to Indian Land has been among the leaders in population and business growth not only in the state, but at times in the whole country. If those rates continue, Carnes sees more than just public safety needed with the new Indian Land fees.
“When it’s finished, we might still be just where we need to be or even behind,” Carnes said.