Fort Mill planners see an opportunity worth taking; they just aren’t sure which one.
The Town Planning Commission met last week, devoting several more hours to the idea of impact fees on new construction. It was the group’s second meeting specifically to hammer out a recommendation for the Town Council.
Commissioners expected to have something official at their June 23 meeting for presentation to the council as early as July 13.
Planners are likely to recommend charging 90 percent of what state law allows for effects to park and recreation, municipal service and fire protection. Fees are based on how many new residences or vehicle trips new construction adds. Funds generated in each category must be spent for new infrastructure to keep pace with growth.
The less likely decision concerns the fourth category: transportation. Planners have heard for some time that congested roads are a top priority for residents, but a transportation fee uses vehicle trips as a basis, so new business would take the biggest hit by far.
Commissioners don’t want to add up to 90 percent of the new impact fee total to businesses, but they don’t want to miss out of road funding, either.
“You really can’t have both,” said Planning Director Joe Cronin. “You have to pick essentially one or the other.”
Chairman James Traynor and others say the residential growth in Fort Mill is now at a point where it can attract quality commercial growth, a long-held goal to increase quality of life and level the tax base. Traynor said he worries a heavy hit to new business construction could undo progress.
“The market for quality jobs is highly competitive,” he said. “The quality jobs are fought for, and they’re fought for hard.”
Commissioner Chris Wolfe said he doesn’t like the idea of reducing possible income for roads, but the high cost to business bothers him.
“Even though we all know we need to improve it, it just hits commercial so hard,” Wolfe said.
Other commissioners see the matter differently. Commissioner James McMullen sees Fort Mill as desirable enough in the near term to attract business, with no guarantee it always will be.
“What we really need is to capture the next two to three years,” he said.
Cronin said it isn’t clear whether the town could set different rates based on priority investment districts. The idea would be to reduce rates in specific areas targeted for commercial growth. Legal opinions obtained by the town are “a little more open” to the investment district idea than simply varying the rates by use, which is illegal.
Commissioners agree that an update to the impact-fee structure will be needed in a few years, when an increased commercial tax base could change the fee equation and perhaps reduce transportation costs on business.
A final recommendation to the council likely will include a proposed change to building permit fees, and could include a formal support of a state law change to exempt schools from impact fees.
Perhaps the main issue in impact fee discussions for months has been the charge it could place on schools. Two legal opinions on the issue make it clear the town could not exempt schools, churches or nonprofits.
“Based on the opinions that we’ve gotten, we have not placed any specific exemption in for schools,” Cronin said.
State Rep. Raye Felder put a proviso in the House version of the state budget, promising work on legislation to permanently exempt schools. Budget provisos are good only for that budget year.
The new fiscal year begins July 1, but state lawmakers left Columbia without approving a new budget.
Town Council and Planning Commission members have been constant in saying they don’t want to charge schools. If the proviso isn’t included in future state budgets, the town could eliminate or reduce fees at any time.
“They’re the recipient of growth,” Wolfe said of schools. “They should be out of it.”
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John Marks • 803-547-2353