Could building fees bring new revenue to Lancaster County schools? Leaders think so.

State and York Co. argue in court to uphold rules allowing fees in Fort Mill school district

South Carolina and York County attorneys argued to uphold rules allowing for impact fee charges in the Fort Mill school district. State and county home builder group attorneys argues the fees should be illegal.
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South Carolina and York County attorneys argued to uphold rules allowing for impact fee charges in the Fort Mill school district. State and county home builder group attorneys argues the fees should be illegal.

The Fort Mill school district has collected $8 million from increased impact fees since summer, prompting another local district to consider them.

Lancaster County School District leaders are moving forward with an impact fee study following the success the Fort Mill schools had in getting increased fees passed by York County Council, said Bobby Parker, chair of the Lancaster school board.

The study will be restricted to the Indian Land area, Parker said. The fees would be on new residences within the Panhandle.

“It’s going to keep growing as long as there is land there,” Parker said. “If we don’t do something, we will probably end up in another bond referendum.”

Lancaster County leaders are already considering charging new development fees for Emergency Medical Services and fire services in Indian Land, where the county is seeing growth.

Fort Mill school district leaders presented their impact fee information to Lancaster County Council and the Lancaster County School District last week.

The Fort Mill district had been charging $2,500 on new homes and apartments within the district since 1996. The new fees were approved by York County Council July 16. Each new home is charged more than $18,000 and $12,000 for each new apartment, said Leanne Lordo, assistant superintendent of finance and operations.

The impact fees are charged to builders or developers at the time a building permit is issued. The cost is typically then shifted to the homeowners and renters.

Since the fees are charged on new residences, they do not impact people living in the district before the higher fee was enacted, Lordo said.

“You’re not hurting all your current residents who have been here for years and years,” she said. “You’re helping them because you are using a mechanism by law to help growth pay for growth.”

No other York County school districts have taken action toward charging impact fees.

The Clover school district is gathering information on how much it costs to educate a student in Clover, said Bryan Dillon, district spokesperson. However, the district has not said if the data would be used to enact impact fees.

“Once we have the information from these studies it will be presented to the (Clover) school board,” Dillon said in a message to The Herald. “At that time they may consider how they want to use the information.”

York County is looking at impact fees to help cover the costs of roads and public safety services in unincorporated areas, The Herald previously reported.

Since the fee increase, the Fort Mill school district has collected $8 million from more than 280 single-family homes and more than 176 multifamily units, Lordo said.

The fees can only be used for costs related to growth within the district, including new schools, furniture for new facilities and land purchases, said Kristy Spears, Fort Mill school board chair.

The goal of the new fees is to lower the district’s debt and, in turn, lower the burden on taxpayers in the district, Lordo said.

“We truly are high in debt for a district our size,” she said. “Our goal in this is to give immediate relief to our taxpayers and reduce our debt millage going forward.”

However, none of that money is yet being used because of a lawsuit filed by state and local home builders in the fall, Lordo said. The district voted to increase its tax rate for the repayment of debt because of the case’s uncertainty, The Herald previously reported.

The suit names the state and the county but is not against the school district, Spears said. The suit claims the state law that allows the fees is “unconstitutional,” The Herald previously reported.

The district is covering the cost of the suit and knew legal action was a possibility, Spears said.

On Tuesday, the case reached a York courtroom. Judge Brian Gibbons gave both attorneys for state and county home builder associations and state and county leaders 10 days to submit further documents in the case.

Since the new fees were imposed, Lordo said the Fort Mill area has not seen a significant decline in growth. Spears said the school district is enrolling about 50 new students a month.

“If the developers have slowed down, they shouldn’t because those people are still buying the houses and moving here,” Spears said.

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Amanda Harris covers issues related to children and families in York, Chester and Lancaster County for The Herald. Amanda works with local schools, parents and community members to address important topics such as school security, mental health and the opioid epidemic. She graduated from Winthrop University.