Growth continues to be the prevailing theme of the annual State of the Community breakfast according to officials from the township’s three local municipalities who spoke at the chamber event Friday.
Two years ago, Fort Mill’s Superintendent of Schools, Chuck Epps, used the gathering to set the stage for last year’s successful $54 million bond referendum. Now, the district’s two high schools are expanding and another elementary school is being built to accommodate another wave of new home construction and the young families that are expected to follow. That’s in addition to several previously planned new schools scheduled to open in the next year.
Friday, Tega Cay Mayor George Sheppard and Fort Mill Mayor Danny Funderburk both told a full house at St. John’s United Methodist Church that their building departments are issuing permits at pre-recession levels.
After rattling off a list of new subdivisions, including one with more than 1,300 homes, Funderburk looked over at Epps and said, “Chuck, I’m not trying to give you a heart attack, but there’s several more properties in the pipeline.”
Following a low 41 of building permits in 2009-’10, “the town has issued more building permits between July 2012 and June 2013” – 231 – “than any period in the last seven years,” Funderburk said.
Similarly, “Tega Cay continues to be a desirable destination for residents and businesses alike,” Sheppard said.
“The real estate market in Tega Cay is strong as evidenced by how quickly homes are selling: In 2007-2008, at the height of the recession, the city issued 89 new home permits with an average price of $279,000; In 2012-13 the city issued 116 new home permits with an average price of $378,000.”
Sheppard also said that, “Many of our residents are choosing to remodel [their homes] as opposed to leaving the city they love.”
Epps, who spoke last, also focused on growth-related issues, talking about new school construction and a realignment of elementary school attendance zones that is already in progress. A third high school, he said, will likely be built by 2020.
“I’ll challenge Danny and George, as you talk to these developers, we wouldn’t mind donations for school sites, too. You go with 1,300 homes on the river, we’d love to have...I know it isn’t easy, but I’d like to work together with you on that,” Epps said, apparently somewhat tongue-in-cheek, judging by the laughs.
“We’ll need 10 more school sites,” Epps said. “I say that kind of jokingly, but we will double in size,” Epps said.
Both mayors, and Epps, provided a rundown of their municipality’s highlights:
• Once a “small, gated community,” The city now has 8,000 residents and 34 businesses with more of both on the way
• Trail connectivity is on-going, including plans to link up with the Carolina Thread Trail at the Catawba River
• Fiscally, “This was the easiest budget I've had to work on,” Sheppard said. The city has a fund balance that’s 45 percent of its total budget and an AA3 bond rating – better than any other S.C. city its size and the same as Rock Hill’s – which allowed Tega Cay to save money by refinancing its debt. Sheppard said the city has adopted a “needs versus wants, pay-as-you-go,” budget policy to keep fees and taxes flat.
• Paid firefighters to augment the volunteer department and “provide 24-7 coverage” and “an average response time of less than 60 seconds,” Sheppard said.
• Development of a Tega Cay app that is expected to roll out around Labor Day (see related story
• “We know we can't spend more money than we take in; We can’t print money when we need it like the federal government does,” Funderburk said, so the town is focusing on core services.
“We’re certainly not flushed with cash, but the town’s finances are sound. We have a small surplus” and “adequate reserves,” Funderburk said.
“Providing basic services – police, fire, water/sewer street sanitation and recreation is basically what municipal government is about. Nothing more, nothing less,” he said.
• Fort Mill is building a fire/police substation to serve the Doby’s Bridge Road corridor
• Expansion of the multi-use Doby’s Bridge ball park
• A developer of one new subdivision is setting aside 25 acres for a public park
• Improvements, including a turn lane, on Hwy. 160
• New courtroom and office space
Epps paused early in reciting a list of accomplishments and told the crowd he apologized in advance for the ones left out due to logistics. A few of the ones he mentioned are:
• $17 million in scholarships earned by students
• A replica Sopwith Camel students are building should be ready to fly in December
• A new emphasis on “teaching this generation of children how to eat properly,” Epps said.
• At the FBLA National Conference in Anaheim, Calif., students from Fort Mill and Nation Ford high schools finished among the top students. More than 9,000 students attended.