By Ruben Lowman
After much deliberation over the past year about raising impact fees on new developments, Horry County Council decided to vote against a proposed increase at a nearly two-hour workshop Tuesday.
Horry leaders brought forward the question of raising impact fees to help fund infrastructure improvements and other capital projects like public safety buildings throughout the county at a special impact fee workshop on Tuesday, May 10, where they ultimately voted 8-3 against increasing it from its current rate. Councilmembers Harold Worley, Bill Howard and Chairman Johnny Gardner supported the measure.
The topic of impact fees has been an ongoing debate for some time locally, as leaders have attempted to put some levels of control on the rapid growth the area has experienced over the past decade. The fees are essentially a building tax, a one-time payment that developers make to the county when they build a new development, whether residential or commercial.
Councilmembers voted last fall to put impact fees in place last year for several different sectors, including public safety, solid waste and parks and recreation. Impact fees for transportation and stormwater were held out to help ease the financial strain on small business owners due to the pandemic. The plan was to gradually phase in the fees, and keep the option open to potentially increase them in the future.
Worley outlined that a strengthened impact fee could see major improvements to roads and other infrastructure, as well as fund the construction of new fire stations and upgrades to recreation centers in the county. Currently, the impact fee on new residential developments is $1,236 for a single-family home, with commercial developments seeing an impact fee of $1,797 per 1,000 square feet.
What Worley proposed is to free up the money for increases to first responder and county employee salaries by replacing funds currently budgeted for capital projects, things like fire stations and fire trucks, with those from impact fees. This would enable the county to both increase the salaries they offer their employees, alongside improving the infrastructure and the facilities for both residents and county staff.
As the county has experienced unprecedented growth over recent years, officials have said they are inundated with record levels of service calls on first responders and the strain is only likely to increase as more people move to the area. Officials said they expect a quarter of a million new residents of Horry over the next 20 years.
Chairman Johnny Gardner further said that county officials were looking at raising impact fees, partially so they didn’t have to increase taxes on residents.
“You’re going to pay for it through your millage on your existing homes and then you’re going to be subsidizing development,” Worley explained. “That is the bottom line.”
Worley continued by reminding the rest of council that Horry residents voted to support impact fees on new developments and the residents that move to the area to move into them. County residents voted in favor of the fees by a near three to one majority a few years ago.
“It’s got to be done,” Worley emphasized. “It’s either we get this impact fee, growth stops, or we raise the millage on existing homes and commercial property to build these roads, stormwater, public safety – capitals projects.”
County data shows that nearly 5,000 new building permits have been issued through just this March. At the same time, the county’s impact fees implemented last October have brought in nearly $4 million to the county’s coffers from then until this April.
Councilmembers ultimately voted against raising the fees, as they argued that they viewed it too soon to be increasing them after just putting them in place last fall. The increase was shelved for now, with the possibility that council will revisit them at a date sometime in the near future.