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Attorneys made their cases. What a judge’s decision on Fort Mill school fees means

State and York Co. argue in court to uphold rules allowing fees in Fort Mill school district

South Carolina and York County attorneys argued to uphold rules allowing for impact fee charges in the Fort Mill school district on Tuesday. State and county home builder group attorneys argues the fees should be illegal.
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South Carolina and York County attorneys argued to uphold rules allowing for impact fee charges in the Fort Mill school district on Tuesday. State and county home builder group attorneys argues the fees should be illegal.

The case against impact fees in the Fort Mill school district, and possibly elsewhere, will continue.

Two weeks after attorneys argued in a York courtroom for and against the validity of the fees, Judge Brian Gibbons denied a request by South Carolina and York County to dismiss the state as a defendant. The case now moves to discovery and further arguments.

The ruling doesn’t mean either side has won, but the home builder groups’ challenge meets legal thresholds to continue. Attorneys for the state say rules allowing for impact fees in South Carolina are specific and well-established law, while home builders groups say they are too vague.

The case also involves York County’s application of state law in raising school impact fees last summer.

If the courts rule in favor of the home builder groups, the decision could be felt throughout municipalities in York County and statewide.

In the Fort Mill school district, the recent decision means continued litigation and collected money going unspent.

How we got here

The school district began collecting impact fees, charges on new construction, in 1996. The charges only apply to residential construction. Revenue allows the district to pay for costs that come along with population growth.

At the district’s request, York County studied the fee to see if the charge should change. The county sets the amount for the district. Last summer, York County Council voted to increase fees from $2,500 per residence to more than $18,000 for each home and $12,000 for each apartment unit.

In September, the state and county home builder associations joined Shea Homes and Soni Constructionchallenging the increases. The builder groups say the increases are arbitrary and act as a building moratorium when earlier efforts toward an actual one failed.

Builders say not only has the county created a hardship charging higher fees, but state law allowing for impact fees shouldn’t give them that ability. State rules, they say, allow for uncapped increases and are unconstitutional.

State attorneys filed a motion to have South Carolina dismissed in the case since its only role is the law allowing for fees. Judge Gibbons heard arguments and denied that motion.

What’s next

The impact fee case isn’t just about which side wins, but about how long it takes. School leaders in Fort Mill spoke during debate on fee increases about how the tax burden on existing residents could lessen if impact fees, which go to incoming residents, were higher.

Last August, the district voted to increase taxes rather than spend money from the impact fees it collected at the higher amount. The district doesn’t want to spend money tied up in litigation.

“The board understands, as with any other lawsuit, it is not possible to know how long this challenge will remain unresolved and the district cannot prudently use the impact fees collected while their validity remains in question,” district spokesperson Joe Burke said at the time.

Case documents don’t indicate when to expect a final decision on the fees. The next hearing date has not yet been set.

Chris Pettit updates Fort Mill Town Council about impact fee collections for 2017-18. Pettit is the new assistant town manager.

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John Marks covers community growth, municipalities and general news mainly in the Fort Mill and York County areas. He began writing for the Herald and sister papers in 2005 and won dozens of South Carolina Press Association and other awards since.


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