Fate of County Council Draws Near with Upcoming Vote on Impact Fees

By Paul Gable

In two weeks, the 12 members of Horry County Council will go a long way toward deciding their future fates with the voters when third reading of the county impact fee ordinance comes up for a vote.

In 2018, over 70% of voters approved establishing impact fees in the county on an advisory referendum question on the general election ballot.

Those voters have not forgotten their eminently clear message to county council – vote for impact fees.

On the table at third reading of the ordinance is imposition of an impact fee of approximately $6,600 for new single-family homes and varying impact fees for other types of new construction depending on the type.

The need for impact fees to pay for the costs of new development is quite simple. Revenue from those fees can be used to fund new capital projects in a variety of categories including roads, parks and recreation facilities, libraries, fire stations and police stations that will be needed to serve the huge amount of development currently underway in the county.

Using impact fees to pay for such new construction can reduce the pressure on the general fund to pay those costs or the need to impose such things as special projects sales taxes such as the RIDE tax.

To further exacerbate the issue, eight members of county council (Johnny Vaught, Dennis DiSabato, Cam Crawford, Gary Loftus, Bill Howard, Orton Bellamy, Danny Hardee and Mark Causey) provided the votes to pass the largest individual tax increase in Horry County history – 7.5 mils in the unincorporated area plus increases in two additional fees.

As one social media post noted about the tax increase, “Absolutely heinous that the special interests and county council put all this (costs of) new development on the backs of existing taxpayers. Unbelievable! If they had imposed impact fees when the majority of HC residents approved them several years ago, we wouldn’t have to have such huge mil increases. This is literally taxation without representation and it’s theft.”

And another, “The tax and spend so-called Republicans don’t give a flip. They will find any excuse to raise taxes on the hard-working residents of Horry County.”

Three members of county council, Chairman Johnny Gardner, Harold Worley and Al Allen received thanks for voting against the tax increase and “putting the people first.” Council member Tyler Servant was absent for the vote.

The message in those posts is certainly clear, but one wonders whether all council members are hearing that message.

As Worley has said over and over, it’s time for new residents to pay their share of the cost of development through impact fees rather than putting all those costs on the backs of all taxpayers.

During second reading of the ordinance, the tactics for special interests were observed. DiSabato told council members before the meeting that he had the votes to send the impact fee ordinance back to committee for further study. Worley correctly called such a move a “kill pill” for the ordinance as any such delay is designed to stop the ordinance from passing. DiSabato never made the motion so obviously he did not have the votes.

Crawford spoke more during the last council meeting than he has combined during all the other meetings he has attended during his five years on council. Crawford’s comments were attempts to denigrate impact fees and their usefulness to the county but no one on the dais picked up on his comments.

Word around the county is DiSabato and Crawford are leading the attempts by the special interests of the development community to minimize the amount of impact fees or stop them altogether.

Hardee and Causey seemed intimidated by the $6,600 fee for new single-family homes and similar fees on other new construction. Both were attempting to find a way to reduce the initial rate of impact fees.

 As was explained at second reading, reducing the fee from the maximum for each category currently contained in the ordinance can raise questions of levels of service provided by the fees potentially opening the entire ordinance up for a legal challenge.

Will the upcoming July 13, 2021 meeting of county council, when third reading and public input for the impact fee ordinance is scheduled, turn into the same type of circus we have seen in the past when impact fees were considered?

Expect speakers from the development industry to predict all sorts of doom and gloom for the Horry County economy and its citizens if impact fees are imposed. However misleading those statements will be, such pronouncements have certainly worked to defeat the impact fee question at least twice in the past.

As Worley said, the impact fee ordinance should not be tampered with. Let council vote if up or down with maximum fees in all categories, the yays and nays, and any who vote against the ordinance can explain it to the voters.

And for those council members inclined to vote to reduce the fees or defeat the ordinance entirely, they should remember certain votes, such as impact fees and tax increases, can stick in the minds of the voters for a long time.

If any member of council thinks one vote doesn’t matter when it comes to the next election, they only have to consider the vote of Tom Rice to impeach President Donald Trump and the impact that vote has made on Rice’s potential to be reelected.

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