Upping the amount of money new home buyers pay to help with school costs in Fort Mill isn’t a quick and easy process. It could, though, be a cooperative one.
York County Council approved a resolution Dec. 18 allowing for the county planning commission and staff to study impact fees for the Fort Mill School District. The decision comes after the district asked York County to increase its current fee of $2,500 per occupied new home to $10,000.
“When we were first approached with this idea, it sounded like it was real simple,” Councilman Chad Williams said. “It was an impact fee that Fort Mill has been charging for years. They just wanted to change the amount. But what we found out is, they can’t just do that.”
Development impact fees, charged on new construction, are allowed in South Carolina, but also come with a lengthy list of requirements. Fees can be charged based on the current level of service — in this case schools, but fees can be charged for municipal construction, recreation, fire protection, law enforcement and a host of other uses — and the cost it would take to maintain that level with a growing community.
A school impact fee would require a study showing how much each new occupied home would, on average, impact the school district. Study results can change significantly in time, especially in communities facing rapid growth fueled mostly by young families. The existing fee in Fort Mill hasn’t changed since it was established in 1996.
The request from Fort Mill came as York County was looking at its own potential impact fees. This fall, council voted to begin negotiations with a firm specializing in impact fees to perform its study. The Maryland-based firm has extensive work on more than a dozen types of impact fees, including projects in four counties and two municipalities in South Carolina.
Fees for either the school district or the county would require a new study. The idea of partnering for both items emerged.
“We’ve agreed to work together which I think is great,” Williams said. “We’ve all done more with less as much as we can do. Consolidation and cooperation is the only way to save more taxpayer dollars.”
County Manager Bill Shanahan said the school district was willing to work with his leadership group to fund a study.
“They definitely agreed to that,” Shanahan said.
County leaders didn’t break down costs among the county and school district. Williams did, he said, see opportunity to get a better result for both groups than by having two separate efforts.
“This is going to morph into our countywide area, and that Fort Mill has agreed to participate monetarily,” he said. “Our impact fee study will follow along the same track, so we won’t be doing it twice again.”
Fee studies can take time. Fort Mill passed four new fees in 2015. It took the town 16 months to finalize them. Lancaster County has been in discussion for new fees for some time, with a decision possible in early 2018. The school district fee may not take as long since it’s only one fee, and it would update an existing fee rather than create a new one.
The impact fee study would show how much the school district and county, in separate fee decisions, could charge according to state law and the determined impact. The school fee only would impact new residences. The county fee or fees could impact other types of construction, depending on what types of fee the county could charge.
Completing the study doesn’t lock either group into a new fee, or in the district’s case, a change to the current one. Separate decisions would be required to finalize fees.
According to the recent resolution, the school fee study should be done within four months or “as soon thereafter as practicable.” It references current and projected “rapid population growth” in Fort Mill, and estimates of more than 22,000 new students through 2026.