Fort Mill Times

Road impact fees on the table in York County

York County is the latest local government to consider impact fees to help fund road work.

A county zoning committee met Aug. 17 to discuss impact fees. York County Councilman Bruce Henderson, committee chairman, said he wants to hear what county staff can put together.

“I’m not fully aware of it,” he said of impact fee details, “but I’m willing to listen. We’re trying to develop a formula that would help.”

State law allows municipalities to charge fees on new construction based on the impact development has on infrastructure, in this case roadways. Money collected must be spent on projects from a capital needs list developed along with the fee ordinance.

Fort Mill is halfway through two needed ordinance readings to begin impact fees in four areas – transportation, parks and recreation, municipal and fire service. Lancaster County recently heard a presentation on possible impact fees for the Indian Land area.

Any York County fee would still need three council readings and multiple public hearings. Which would take time. Fort Mill leaders heard their first impact fee presentation from a consultant almost a year ago, and are just now in the voting process.

Henderson told the full council, following the committee meeting, that something new has to be done.

“We cannot keep doing what we’ve been doing or we’re going to get what we’ve always got – problems,” he said.

Money could be used for deceleration lanes, limited access roads or other needs to improve traffic.

“Some of the developers need to be helping out,” Henderson said. “We’re getting to a critical stage. It’s time to figure something out.”

Planning Director Audra Miller told the council’s zoning committee that her department is looking into whether the county can apply an impact fee to developers when new construction effects traffic. Staff have determined the development agreement the county usually enters into with subdivisions isn’t a legally viable way to levy an impact fee, and York County is limited in how it can assess traffic impact from new development.

“We can use traffic (as the basis) for a denial,” Miller said. “But if a road is already graded an F, it can’t go down.”

Miller said the planning department could hire a consultant to assess how best to counter new traffic, but county council would have to allocate new money for that purpose.

Councilwoman Christi Cox, also on the zoning committee, said the condition of existing roads is a concern, too.

“We have roads that are failing,” she told the council. “We know that any additional development is going to wreak havoc, and as it stands right now there is nothing we can do with these ordinances we have on the books.”

Cox said impact fees may be the only way to answer to deal with a fundamental concern.

“How do we beef up our ordinances to give us the power to deal with this problem?” she asked.

Councilman Michael Johnson doesn’t sit on the zoning committee, but attended the recent presentation.

“I do not support impact fees,” Johnson said. “Impact fees are bad for business.”

His district of Fort Mill and Tega Cay sits at about 60 percent residential, and 40 percent commercial use. Impact fees put undue burdens on business, Johnson said, and even large additions like LPL Financial and Lash Group at Kingsley North could no longer look to open shop here in the future.

“We have to increase commercial growth, or our schools will fail,” Johnson said. “Our tax base will continue to narrow.”

Impact fees are used in high growth areas in South Carolina. In Fort Mill, the school district charges a $2,500 per residence fee. However, school districts, other than Fort Mill’s, which was grandfathered in, can no longer institute the fees, but municipalities can.

Transportation fees, which can fund part or all of road improvement projects, are presenting a challenge in Fort Mill because they charge more for commercial than residential development. The idea is a businesses puts far more vehicles on local roadways than a home. They also allow for the highest charges, given the expense of creating or maintaining roads.

The York County Regional Chamber of Commerce opposes impact fees in Fort Mill. So does the Fort Mill School District.

Yet planners there, like those in the county, say road infrastructure is a pressing need. Henderson said if roads and other infrastructure deteriorate with growth rather than account for it, the county could face a new set of problems.

“People will leave here for the same reason they came here, and that’s quality of life,” he said. “We’re getting to a defining line here.”

Should a county impact fee gain momentum, the process might actually help Fort Mill planners make their case for fees. A lack of uniformity causes concern in Fort Mill, with many in recent months saying a business will locate just outside of town limits if Fort Mill has a fee but the county or Tega Cay doesn’t.

They argue the town would still get employees living in Fort Mill, their children attending school there and their cars on local roads but without the commercial tax rate of having the business. If both the town and county have a transportation impact fee, that concern lessens.

County leaders aren’t as concerned with their impact on the Fort Mill decision. They just want to know if impact fees are the right option for the county.

“What we’ve got is certainly not sufficient,” Henderson said.

Herald reporter Bristow Marchant contributed this story.