South Carolina

Thousands voted yes for impact fees. Now, Horry wants to use your vote to change SC law

Horry County council.
Horry County council. jlee@thesunnews.com

Horry County voters are overwhelmingly in favor of the implementation of an impact fee, and now Horry County Council has showed its support as well.

At its Wednesday budget retreat, Horry County Council members voted 11 to 1 to lobby the South Carolina legislature to update the impact fee law. Council member Paul Prince was the only member to vote against the resolution.

In November, Horry County voters voted on a non-binding referendum asking how they felt about the implementation of a useable impact fee. Now, those votes will go on to show the state politicians that the people here are largely in favor of such fees to help pay for the strain new developments can create on public infrastructure.

Under current South Carolina law, the county could implement an impact fee, but many believe current laws are inadequate to meaningfully address the area’s needs. Assistant County Administrator Justin Powell presented to council how staff recommended the laws be changed to be more usable.

The county would like to see state legislators loosen the laws for how fees can be implemented, how long the fee can be used and what the revenue can go toward.

The proposed changes include updating what the fee can be used for, expanding the law to allow for libraries, general government buildings and affordable housing.

A second key change would give the county 10 years to find uses for the fee. Right now, the county has to use the money in 3 years, or else it goes back to the person who paid it — typically the developers.

Now, it is up to the state legislature to change the law. Horry County Chair Mark Lazarus suggested that the county contract a lobbyist to make sure that state legislators listen to what Horry residents and leaders want to see changed.

He said that the Horry County elected officials will do their best to advocate for the county, but sometimes it takes a dedicated lobbyist to make sure legislation gets done.

A second resolution passed on Wednesday allows the Horry County Planning Commission to begin a study on how an impact fee could be levied and used. This is required by current law. At its Thursday meeting, the commission voted to begin the search for a consultant to produce the study.

The deadline for the commission’s study is the summer of 2019, upon which the planning commission will make a recommendation to County Council.

The tool box

On Wednesday, county council members discussed impact fees as an alternative to potential tax increases. Council member Dennis DiSabato said he is in full support of impact fees, but reminded council that the money from such a fee isn’t a cure-all to the financial issues the county currently faces — like increasing pay for public safety officers and balancing the budget for the parks department.

“I just don’t want our constituents to think we’re going to have more cops on the ground from the impact fee,” he said.

Powell reminded council that impact fees cannot be used for reoccurring expenses, like salaries or regularly required maintenance. Impact fees can only be used on capital projects.

Beyond being required by state law, another reason for this is because the county can estimate how many homes will be built in a given year, but that number could drastically change depending on the housing market.

For example, if a police officer’s salary is tied to an impact fee, and for whatever reason no homes were built in Horry County that year, then there would not be any money to pay the salary.

Council member Harold Worley said it is just one “tool in the tool box.” He said even if the money can’t be used for reoccurring cost, it will help the county free up money from elsewhere that can then be rededicated to other expenses. He agreed that an impact fee is not the cure-all for county issues.

“It’s another tool in the tool box,” he said to council.

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