Fort Mill Times

Fewer permits, but growth moves on

The growth boom in Lancaster County may be showing signs of slowing down, according to numbers released by the Catawba Regional Council of Governments.

Local leaders believe growth is here to stay, however, and that continuing to plan for it is the county's challenge. The impact is being felt at local schools and one administrator is convinced mobile classrooms will be needed next year.

Lancaster County issued 1,439 building permits for single family homes in 2006. In 2007, that number decreased to 1,321, equating to an 8.2 percent drop, a much smaller decrease than several area counties.

In York County, the decrease in single family home building permits was 23.8 percent. Union County permits dropped 15.1 percent.

Chester County was the only area county that had an increase, with a 16.5 percent jump in single family permits from 2006 to 2007.

Approximately 90 percent of the permits issued in Lancaster County in 2006 and 2007 were for homes in the Panhandle, according to County Administrator Steve Willis.

Bryan Vaughn, Indian Land's representative on the county council, said the decrease in permits shouldn't be seen as a sign that growth in the area is coming to a halt.

"There may be some drop off in the number of permits, but we're still having a continual growth in the area. The growth certainly hasn't dropped off," Vaughn said. "It has declined, it's not at the same pace, but I don't think by any stretch it has stopped. We're in a lull but I don't think this is a long term thing. The geography of the area is just too good. It's way too good for the growth to stop."

Providing the infrastructure for the new homes and residents is one of the biggest concerns facing the county right now, Willis said.

Fire, EMS, and police protection have been enhanced as the Panhandle grows, but limitations on the county's budget make keeping pace difficult.

"You've got to provide the services the day folks move in," Willis said.

By state law, the county is only allowed to grow its property tax millage by the increase of the Consumer Price Index, 2.85 percent, plus the growth rate, as estimated by the State Budget and Control Board. Lancaster County has grown by approximately 2.2 percent this year, according to county estimates, but Willis said it is likely closer to 8 percent.

"We're limited in what we can do," he said. Creating a budget that meets everyone's needs will be difficult without an accurate estimate of the area's growth, he added. The county budget will already be stretched this year, he said, because of staffing needs at the Edenmoor EMS station and the Indian Land library, both currently under construction, and the county's typical annual needs.

"It isn't going to happen with just 2.2 percent," Willis said. "Something will have to give somewhere."

The school district is also feeling the impact of new residents, and their children, moving into the district. Last year, the high school moved into a new building with more space for the expanding high school population. Indian Land Middle School moved into the former high school building to give them more room to grow.

At the elementary school, seven new teachers were hired this year and an additional kindergarten class was added in the middle of the school year.

The space left when the middle school students moved out was quickly filled. In the 2008-2009 school year, Assistant Principal Pat Blacknall said, elementary school students will begin using mobile classrooms.

There simply isn't enough room in the current elementary school for all of the students moving into the community, she said.

"[Growth is] constant for us here," Blacknall said. "The district has been great about making adjustments when it needs to be, so we can accommodate. But we're still getting students every day."