The Fort Mill School District is proposing a $226 million bond issue to keep pace with growth, but a town decision could make the cost higher.
Fort Mill Town Council commissioned a study late last year on impact fees. A consultant outlined four areas – fire, park and recreation, municipal and transportation – where the town could charge fees on incoming development. The study is in.
“We’re really just waiting on direction from Council,” said Joe Cronin, planning director.
The fees are charged to new construction, based on factors such as the effect on roads or the recreation system. The park and recreation fee would apply only to residential growth, but the other fees could be charged for churches, schools, business and homes.
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“You couldn’t charge a different rate to one or the other,” Cronin said. “We couldn’t exempt any new construction.”
If Council tries to exclude charging a fee for the new school construction, the door opens for legal challenge from other developers.
“If you assess a fee, then the fee has to be blind to what the use is,” Cronin said.
Yet the state budget allows the state to withhold from a town the amount it charges a school district for impact fees. Fort Mill gets about $200,000 a year from fees. Should that law exist in a year when the school district applies for a building permit, the town is stuck with a tough choice – charge the school district or face a legal challenge from another developer.
“It would put our Council in a fairly precarious position,” Cronin said. “I don’t know how that gets resolved.”
Town Council members have stated they wouldn’t want to charge the district, a public entity working to manage growth. But town officials also say the impact fee charges need to be legally sound.
The school district hasn’t discussed the possibility yet. The town and district haven’t spoken on the topic, officials said.
“From our standpoint, we do hope that the school district will be excluded from these fees since it is our taxpaying community who is already bearing and will potentially bear the expense of building additional facilities as a result of thousands of new home sites already approved by the town of Fort Mill,” said Kelly McKinney, school district spokeswoman.
Exact costs haven’t been determined. The town can choose to charge impact fees for any, all or none of the categories outlined by the consultant. The study shows the maximum allowed charge per use, though it’s nearly universal for towns to set rates up to 50 percent or less of the maximum allowed.
Based on the study, a new high school could be charged $2,861 per square foot based on its impact to fire service, municipal service and transportation needs. The bond presented by the district includes a new high school, middle school, staff training and support center, aquatics center and renovations to existing facilities. If approved in a referendum, the new high school would be between 320,000 and 390,000 square feet, which mean as much as a $1.1 million impact fee.
If the town institutes any or all of the impact fees, it likely would charge them based on when permits are applied for and collect when certificates of occupancy arrive. The town would set a date for when the fees would begin, and any permit applied for between the announcement and that date wouldn’t be subject to the fees.
“A lot of it could depend on timing,” Cronin said.
The state has only a dozen or so impact fees like the ones being considered by Council. One comes from the school district, which charges $2,500 per new residential construction unit. Last month, the district collected $165,000 from new homes within its boundaries. Fort Mill homes made up $115,000 of that figure, the rest coming from Tega Cay and unincorporated areas.
Most schools within the Fort Mill district lie within Fort Mill or Tega Cay municipal boundaries. The high school site on South Dobys Bridge and Whites roads is within Fort Mill town limits.