Fort Mill Times

Indian Land impact fee advocates seek traction

Nearly a year after its creation, the joint committee of Lancaster County Council members and school district officials have made little progress towards involving the school district in negotiations with developers.

Last year, the Lancaster County School Board approved a recommendation to the Lancaster County Council to negotiate a $6,400 fee for every new home built in the county, with the money to go to the district for capital needs.

The Fort Mill School District is the only one in the state allowed to collect impact fees because it was grandfathered in after the practice was legislated out of existence by S.C. lawmakers. Lancaster officials have argued that collecting fees would be within the law as long as they are negotiated with builders rather than required.

The county council heard the recommendation, but has not taken any action.

Indian Land's council representative, Bryan Vaughn, said the council and the school district are still trying to get together to discuss the recommendation. The council has requested that district officials make a presentation, explaining how they derived the figure and how the money would be used.

The committee originally expected the presentation would take place during last month's planning session, but school officials had a conference to attend that weekend. Now, Vaughn said, it's just a matter of finding a time for the presentation that works into everyone's schedules.

"We're still hopeful to get something up and running in the next couple of months," Vaughn said. "Certainly we'd like to get moving on it."

Lancaster County School District Finance Director Tony Walker agreed and said in the meantime, the district isn't concerned about losing potential revenue from new homes. The amount of money generated by the fee will be helpful, he said, but won't generate "massive amounts of money."

Right now, the county council negotiates a voluntary impact fee with developers who want to build in the county. The school district receives none of the funds to offset the impact new developments have on the district, unless the council or the developers specifically request funding be funneled to the district.

That has only happened once in the Panhandle. Belair, a Pulte Homes community, pays $200 per home to the district for capital needs projects.

The last development agreement negotiated between the county and a developer in the Indian Land area was before the school district made their recommendation. The development, Providence Estates, agreed to pay $10,000 per home to the county. None of that money was designated for the school district.

Negotiating a similar per-home fee designated for the district will help the district cover the cost of the new schools needed for the children moving into the area. A new elementary school is already planned for Indian Land, though district officials aren't sure when it will be built.

"We're still on track to move forward at some point," Walker said. "It's just a long range plan that we're trying to get started. No one wants to rush into it. It's a good plan and a good idea; it's just a matter of getting it started."