Lancaster County has the data, the growth, the projects and their price tags. It’s just a matter of how much the county wants to charge developers to bring all those numbers a little closer together.
The county administration committee met Thursday. On that agenda, a discussion to finalize an impact fee ordinance so Lancaster County Council can vote on it. The county already studied potential fees for fire service, EMS, libraries and parks and recreation. They would apply to the county’s panhandle, dipping just below S.C. 5.
“The committee looked at it and basically they just reviewed it, and didn’t have many questions,” county administrator Steve Willis said Friday morning. “They said no, forward it on to council, and let’s discuss things.”
Council, which took up the fees briefly last fall, could see them again on an agenda as early as Feb. 26.
What is it, and why?
Development impact fees are charges on new construction. The idea is new construction causes increased strain on public services, so charging for it — typically when building permits are issued — can help reduce extra costs on existing residents and businesses. State law determines when impact fees can be charged, and how much.
“Council has said they want growth to pay for growth, Willis said. “Impact fees are the way to do that. The demand is growing because of the people coming in. The other way you can do it is you can just raise taxes for everybody, not just the people who are causing the need for expansion.”
Fees are collected based on the cost of providing a service, and the amount collected has to go toward improving that service. So each new house or fast food restaurant or warehouse goes through a number-crunching and pays a certain amount for fire, recreation or whatever other fees the county establishes. The fire amount could go toward a new fire station, the recreation amount to a new sports complex.
There were about 8,000 residences and 19,700 people in Indian Land for that 2010 census. By 2025 there will be a projected 18,281 residences and 42,454 people.
Fort Mill began charging impact fees a few years ago amid similar community growth to what Indian Land sees today. York County is looking at starting its own new impact fees, along with reviewing a Fort Mill School District fee that’s been in place decades to see if it needs an increase. During the most recent election season there was some discussion in Tega Cay about impact fees, but the city isn’t nearly as far along as its neighboring municipalities.
“It’s certainly not a unique idea,” Willis said. “If you have an area that’s growing, and Fort Mill and the panhandle of Lancaster County certainly qualify.”
If projected growth alone proves reason to charge fees, Indian Land may have as strong a case as any community, even locally. The last federal census showed Indian Land grew by almost 180 percent in a decade. Compared to about growth of about 25 percent for the county as a whole. And the trend didn’t stop in 2010.
There were about 8,000 residences and 19,700 people in Indian Land for that 2010 census. By 2025 there will be a projected 18,281 residences and 42,454 people. A population increase of more than 115 percent.
What will they buy?
Impact fees have to fund items already in an accompanying capital needs study. Council could always update its study, as long as items still fit within the uses it charges. For now items that could receive funding include an EMS station and four ambulances, fire stations at Pleasant Valley, Indian Land and the Charlotte Road/Van Wyck area, a building addition at the Indian Land library and a new recreation facility.
The county parks and recreation department services about 2,000 participants a week in the panhandle. If participation increases along with population as projected, upgrades will be needed at the Indian Land recreation center, including a gymnasium, playground, picnic shelter and practice fields. The center is at capacity now. Upgrades will cost almost $5.5 million.
Upgrades will be needed at the Indian Land recreation center, including a gymnasium, playground, picnic shelter and practice fields. The cost: $5.5 million
For a three-year span ending in 2015, all three fire departments serving the panhandle area saw call increases of 58 to 65 percent. A combined $7.3 million would be needed for a new station each, plus land for the Indian Land department.
Emergency response service saw a 68 percent call volume increase in that same span. Rebuilding an EMS station and adding ambulances would cost $1.1 million.
The Del Webb Library is at capacity now, too. An addition there would cost $614,000.
So, how much?
Impact fees take those projections on what it would take to maintain service levels, and run them through the expected number of people, employees, traffic trips and similar data a new construction would add. The result is a maximum amount a municipality can charge by law.
Typically, municipalities opt to charge at least a little less, sometimes much less, than the state allows. Doing so can be useful if a developer or property owner decides to challenge a fee. Council would set the percentage of each maximum fee amount they could charge. They could change the percentage at any time.
Of note, impact fees aren’t designed to entirely cover the costs of new fire stations, ballfields and the like – just lessen the burden on the municipality paying for them.
Based on its most recent study, the county could charge a 100-home subdivision up to $79,326.60 for recreation, $68,615.30 for its fire impact, $19,956.20 for EMS and $8,857.15 for libraries. A 10,000-square-foot office building could pay up to $5,577.93 for fire, $7,389.66 for EMS.
A typical impact fee for a single-family home could be close to $1,800 and for a 10,000-square-foot office building, about $13,000. A new discount store of the same size could pay up to $7,733.29. A 4,000-square-foot fast food restaurant could pay up to $7,811.40 while a 60,000-square-foot business park could pay up to $47,805.77.
Why it’s tricky
The impact fee study is about the only done deal thus far. The county subcommittee has to make its recommendation, with council later voting in favor of the new fees and setting rates. That process is set to take at least several months, at which time Indian Land could have a vastly different political landscape.
Voters in the panhandle will get to choose March 27 whether to incorporate, or create their own town. While a new town still would rely on police and fire service from existing county sources, the plan presented by pro-town organizers is to create their own planning and zoning department. Organizers say making their own decisions on how land is developed in Indian Land is key.
If Indian Land becomes its own town with its own zoning rules before the county implements impact fees for the panhandle, everything could change. There already has been one curveball thrown when Van Wyck voted to incorporate, looking to do so in effort to stay out of the potential new town of Indian Land.
If the county passes impact fees and Indian Land isn’t its own town by then, any fees initiated likely would begin July 1 on next year’s budget cycle.