By Paul Gable
Horry County Council gave unanimous approval to third reading of an ordinance establishing impact fees on new construction but only after voting to reduce the fees by 81.5% before final passage.
To those who haven’t followed the issue closely, the reduction to only a nominal fee that will be charged may seem an action in the best traditions of a conservative council.
BUT IT’S NOT!
In fact, it is a huge victory for special interests to the detriment of average taxpayers in the county.
What eight members of council really voted for was to cave-in to the wishes of the development lobby while ignoring the wishes of the taxpayers.
The development lobby was successful in defeating attempts to impose impact fees at least twice in the last 15 years. After county voters supported instituting impact fees to help pay the cost of new development by a 72% vote in 2018, it was obvious some type of bone had to be thrown to voters this time around.
The question is not whether the explosive development the county is currently experiencing is going to increase the need for new or improved roads, new stormwater infrastructure, new fire stations, new parks and so on. Rather the question is who is going to pay for these improvements of basic needs.
Eight members of council, Johnny Vaught, Dennis DiSabato, Danny Hardee, Mark Causey, Orton Bellamy, Bill Howard, Cam Crawford and Gary Loftus voted to extend those costs to every taxpayer in the county rather than limit the charge to those causing the increase – namely owners of new construction whether private homes or commercial.
Council Chairman Johnny Gardner, and members Harold Worley and Tyler Servant voted against the amendments gutting impact fees and for the wishes of the voters as expressed in the referendum. Member Al Allen was absent from the meeting for business commitments in Illinois.
New single-family homes will be the class of construction that will generate the greatest proportion of the new fees. The first two readings of the impact fee ordinance passed with a fee amount of $6,645 per single-family home with other types of construction, multi-family, retail, hotel for example, having maximum fees imposed in accordance with state law.
Tuesday night the eight council members named above amended the ordinance to remove impact fees for road and stormwater infrastructure from the ordinance thereby reducing the fee for single-family homes from $6,645 per home to $1,236 per home.
But the costs for new and improved road and stormwater infrastructure to serve the new developments throughout the county won’t go away just because council removed those portions of the fee from the ordinance.
Rather, those costs will be passed on to every taxpayer in the county in the form of higher property taxes and stormwater fees just as they were last month when the same eight council members voted for the largest property tax increase in county history (7.5 mils in the unincorporated areas) plus a doubling of the stormwater fee collected per residence).
The developers wanted the fee reduced to the lowest possible amount, which is exactly what they got. By passing a small impact fee on new construction, the eight council members who bowed to the developers’ wishes hope to gain some cover with the voters.
The excuses made for voting to reduce impact fees by 81.5% by taking out any new revenue for new stormwater or road infrastructure, saw eight council members attempting all kinds of verbal spin to justify their vote against the wishes of 72% of the county voters.
Hardee told council it was not developers who would pay the impact fee it would be passed on to the people.
Hardee is absolutely correct. Under the amendment that Hardee voted for that gutted the impact fee ordinance, 100% of the increased cost in county road and stormwater improvements and additions that development causes will be charged to all taxpayers in the form of increased property and other taxes.
In playing to the developers’ wishes, Hardee and the other seven council members who voted for the amended ordinance ignored the wishes of the 72% of county voters who wanted impact fees not property taxes to pay for those improvements.
Howard stated he was for the maximum impact fees allowable by law then voted for just 18.5% of those maximum fees because he thinks the county should start small.
Crawford and Causey said it was all about not adding additional burdens to small business, but how many small businesses in Socastee and Loris are building new buildings?
DiSabato pointed to the increase in stormwater fees as being sufficient for now, but the county has underfunded its stormwater program for 20 years. The county stormwater fee may be enough to make the necessary stormwater mitigation improvements needed if no new homes are added. But that is not the case.
Vaught was first in line to make the motion to amend the original ordinance so impact fees would be reduced by 81.5% from what was initially proposed by the county’s consultants.
Bellamy and Loftus just fell in line with what the development lobby wanted.
Vaught, Howard and Bellamy will be up for reelection next year. There is also some talk that DiSabato and/or Vaught will challenge Gardner for council chairman.
One wonders how a vote for special interests and possible campaign contributions from those special interests while voting against the wishes of nearly three out of four voters in the county will play out at the polling booths next year.