York County Council members reacted favorably to a request by the Fort Mill school district to gather more money from each new home, townhome, apartment and similar living space within its borders.
Last week, district officials presented their case to the York County finance and operations committee.
Fort Mill has an impact fee now charging $2,500 on each newly built residence. The district wants to up that figure to $10,000.
“That would help offset some of our millage, and making it to where all of these people that are moving in and creating all this need for more schools would be paying a little bit more of their share,” Fort Mill school board member Diane Dasher said.
Impact fees are used to offset debt service for the Fort Mill district, said Leanne Lordo, assistant superintendent of finance and operations. The district currently has a debt of $473.5 million from past, voter-approved bond issues.
“We are extremely high for a district our size,” Lordo said.
District students come from Fort Mill, Tega Cay and unincorporated York County. In the past 12 months, the district collected more than $5.8 million in impact fees, officials said.
If increased, the new impact fee would bring the district more than $12 million in additional funding annually to pay down debt, Lordo said. With the additional income, the district will be able to lower the millage rate, currently at 115 mills.
At the current millage rate, a $460 tax bill is levied per $100,000 of a home’s assessed value to pay for debt service in the district.
“I was very excited when I saw how much of an impact this could make immediately for our taxpayers versus us having to increase millage with a possible referendum,” Lordo said. “We consider our accountability to the taxpayers and the community of the utmost importance.”
We consider our accountability to the taxpayers and the community of the utmost importance.
Leanne Lordo, Fort Mill school district
Having county support is key to changing the impact fee amount.
“The county is the one that would make the final approval on the increase on the fee,” said Joe Burke, district spokesperson.
And it looks like the district will have that support.
“I think this a good thing,” said Michael Johnson, vice chairman of the county council.
Johnson, whose district includes Fort Mill, said the increase will not affect the availability of affordable homes in the area as a new home already costs about $398,000. He also said homes will eventually move from Fort Mill regardless of how much the fees are, but that many homes are still coming.
“We are permitted in Fort Mill for over 8,000 homes currently,” Johnson said. “Those 8,000 homes will be built whether there is a $10,000 impact fee or a $20,000 impact fee. They’re coming, what we need to do is make sure that that part of the county is able to not drive businesses away.”
Johnson said the county has had to make large fee-in-lieu of taxes deals.
“Here is an answer to stop raising debt millage and we can get away from some of these fee-in-lieus that we even are groaning as we are passing now.”
Here is an answer to stop raising debt millage and we can get away from some of these fee-in-lieus that we even are groaning as we are passing now.
Michael Johnson, York County Council
County councilwoman Allison Love, who represents the Clover and Lake Wylie area, said she will support Fort Mill’s request, but is concerned the growth will come to Clover. Clover cannot charge the impact fee like Fort Mill can.
“I think its a great solution to the problem you have in Fort Mill, but what concerns me is that it pushes the problem into my district,” she said. “Where we are headed is very concerning and I connect that to overgrowth and un-managed growth.”
A history of underfunding
The Fort Mill district sees the increase as a solution to its growth problem, and one that should have been granted years ago.
The $2,500 number is based on York County ordinances adopted in 1996, said Steve McCrae, a real estate lawyer with the K&L Gates law firm in Charlotte. The firm has represented the district since 2010.
Under the 1996 ordinances, Fort Mill was originally granted $5,038 per unit, but county council approved just $2,500, McCrae said.
At that time, the district was expected to need by the year 2020 1.68 new elementary schools, 0.86 new middle schools and 0.66 new high schools, McCrae said.
The district opened its fifth middle school in August and is opening a third high school in 2019. The district is projected to need a tenth elementary school and a sixth middle school by 2021.
Fort Mill has 15,032 students to date, nearly doubling enrollment in ten years, Epps said. The district has had to freeze enrollment at two elementary schools this year and is looking at a bond referendum for two new elementary schools and a sixth middle school.
Amanda Harris: 803-329-4082