Tag: impact fees

County Council Guts Impact Fee Ordinance Before Final Passage

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.
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.

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Crunch Time for County Council and Impact Fees

Tuesday night Horry County Council will vote on third reading of an ordinance to impose impact fees on new construction in the unincorporated areas of the county.
Two and one-half years ago, nearly 75% of the voters said yes to an advisory referendum question asking whether county council should establish impact fees in the county.
Despite passing the first two readings unanimously, third reading passage of the ordinance is not assured.
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.
Numerous sources have told me over the past two weeks the pressure on council members from the development lobby to water down the bill or kill it completely has been intense.
That lobby, composed of large landowners, builders and their associated sub-contractors and the real estate sales industry is pushing the message that impact fees will cause a significant slowdown in construction costing jobs and seriously impacting the local economy as well as making it more difficult in recruiting new businesses to the area.
The real reason for the opposition to impact fees is the builders do not want to pay $6.600 more out of their pockets each time they receive a new building permit. Developers will recover that money when the house is sold because the cost of impact fees will be passed on to the new homeowner, but they don’t want to float that sum for the few months between start of construction and sale in today’s market.
The impact fee will add approximately 2.5% to the cost of the average new home in Horry County. Prices on new homes have risen considerably more than that in the past year simply through market forces of supply and demand and sales of new homes have not slowed down because of the increasing price.
Impact fees in Horry County are not a new concept. Grand Strand Water and Sewer Authority has been collecting impact fees for a number of years. The statement in the county’s Imagine 2040 master plan explaining those fees is simple, “GSWSA collects water and wastewater capacity fees (impact fees) from new customers so that the current customer base does not bear the burden of new growth for both water and wastewater improvements.”
The development lobby used its same arguments when GSWSA imposed impact fees. Those arguments were totally false then and remain totally false now. One only has to drive around the county and view all the new construction projects in various stages of completion to see how false the argument is. GSWSA impact fees have not impacted new construction one iota.

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County Impact Fees Pass Unanimous Second Reading

Horry County Council is one step closer to imposing impact fees on new construction in the unincorporated areas of the county after unanimously passing second reading of an ordinance establishing those fees Tuesday night.
This is at least the fourth time in the past two decades that impact fees have been discussed by council. In the past, the development lobby has been successful in shutting down impact fees discussions before the issue got too far along in the legislative process.
Circumstances are different this time. Construction, especially of single-family homes, is red hot in the county and gives no signs of slowing down in the immediate future. Similar homes in similar type developments that were being advertised at mid-100s to high-100s last year are now being advertised in the mid-200s. That is approximately $250,000 for the average single-family home being constructed presently in a subdivision.
Some of that increase is due to the cost of building materials which have gone up by as much as four times in the case of lumber over the last 12 months. But profits for the developers have also been rising as the demand for new housing in the county continues to outpace the supply.
During past discussions, developers have been successful with the argument that impact fees would significantly increase the cost of a new home, driving down demand thereby causing high unemployment among the construction industry workers.
That argument does not hold water at this time even though it is being tried again and appears to have a sympathetic ear from a few council members.
Council member Dennis DiSabato attempted unsuccessfully to delay second reading of the ordinance by calling for a new committee to study the issue further. Council member Harold Worley, the most vocal supporter of impact fees during the discussion, said a vote to delay was a “kill pill” and the time had come to vote the ordinance up or down.
Council member Cam Crawford was more vocal and animated during the impact fee discussion than he has been in total in all the other council meetings and discussions over his nearly six years on council. Crawford’s voice and facial expressions clearly demonstrated his distaste for impact fees (or at least the distaste of those who have his ear).
In the end, however, neither DiSabato nor Crawford nor any other member of council voted against the ordinance.

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Gagging of Al Allen Points to Deeper Issues in County

Last week’s premature adjournment of the county council meeting in order to gag council member Al Allen’s requested discussion of county legal fees allowed deeper issues inside the government and county to come to the surface.
A simple request from Allen for county legal fees paid to outside attorneys has been blown up into a supposed politically motivated conspiracy, according to a report in a local media outlet. Two “county officials” speaking on conditions of anonymity, according to the story, put forth a theory alleging a plot to fire County Administrator Steve Gosnell and County Attorney Arrigo Carotti was the reason for Allen’s request.
And make no mistake, the information Allen requested and which was ultimately provided to Allen, other council members (although many of those other members saw the information well before it was produced to Allen) and the media is definitely public information.
According to statements in local media, County Attorney Arrigo Carotti brought Allen’s request for the information on legal fees to council member Johnny Vaught. The excuse Vaught gave to the media was Carotti did that because the legal department budget falls within the oversight of the county Administration Committee of which Vaught is chairman.
Vaught told media he had concern that county legal strategies could be discussed and he didn’t want that sensitive information to become public. I would submit that type of information is already public.
If someone wants to assess legal strategy in any lawsuit, they can go online to the judicial records to read the complaint, response, motions and responses, depositions and view the exhibits associated with the case. All of that information becomes open to the public the minute it is filed with the court. A person is going to gain a lot more information about legal strategy from those documents than from records of how much in legal fees was paid and to whom it was paid.
Vaught’s entire premise that he was attempting to protect privileged information is ridiculous. But the ensuing rhetoric which evolved around the issue and the players involved point to deeper intent.
The real story is the one involving those who said the information requested by Allen should not be released publicly and who created a false narrative in an attempt to publicly embarrass Allen and, later, council Chairman Johnny Gardner.

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Incumbents Rule Primary Elections

Primary election night was ruled by incumbents at all levels.

Only one incumbent lost, Janice Morreale in the District 5 school board race, and that was not a loss to a newcomer. Former county councilman for that district, Howard Barnard, defeated Morreale. Barnard gave up his council seat when he unsuccessfully ran for council chairman 10 years ago.

There will be newcomers to the county council District Nine seat and Horry County Auditor as incumbents Paul Prince and Lois Eargle, respectively, did not seek reelection. Both races will go to a primary runoff in two weeks with Mark Causey and Terry Fowler squaring off for District 10 and R. A. Johnson facing Beth Calhoun for Auditor.

One other incumbent, Sen. Luke Rankin, was forced to a runoff with challenger John Gallman in two weeks as either failed to get over 50 percent of the votes cast.

The victories by the incumbents effectively guarantee that the special interests in the county will play a big role over the next several years to the detriment of average citizens.

There is no doubt there will be a renewed effort to use county tax revenues, not state or federal dollars, to construct the Interstate 73 section in Horry County.

Likewise, developers will continue their push to build anywhere they wish, as much as they wish without any consideration for existing infrastructure and public safety needs of the areas to be developed.

Expect any county council attempt to pass impact fees on new development to be foiled and flood mitigation to be put on the back burner as special interests strive to make as much profit as possible.

There is no doubt that the Covid 19 epidemic played a part in the loss of the challengers as they were restricted in any ability to address groups of voters. Incumbents already had familiarity and name recognition going for them.

However, the basic fault lies with voters, or rather lack of them.

Decisions by County Government Determined by Who the Voters Elect

Ultimately the type of government we have is a consequence of those we elect to serve in it.

In Horry County, I submit some of our incumbent council members are the wrong choice. These are charlatans who hold elective office for self-aggrandizing, self-enriching or ego boosting reasons, or some combination thereof.

They are happy to serve themselves, their large campaign donors and those they perceive to be power brokers. The needs of the citizens at large are a rare afterthought.

For decades, the development industry in Horry County has held influence over this type of council member, using that influence to get virtually anything it wanted, including developing wetlands, flood plains and areas without the necessary supporting infrastructure, approved by council.

Three council members up for reelection who fit completely into that mold are Dennis Disabato, Cam Crawford and Gary Loftus, in my opinion. Disabato and Crawford each draw over 50% of their campaign contributions from the development industry. Loftus was appointed to the advisory board of a developer funded institute at Coastal Carolina University that the development donors hoped would “tell their side”, as one of the big donors put it, on any study completed by the institute.

Crawford, Loftus and Disabato strongly supported the reelection of Mark Lazarus two years ago. After Lazarus lost the council chairman seat to Johnny Gardner, they bought into the fictitious plot, devised by former administrator Chris Eldridge, in consultation with Lazarus, to attempt to keep Gardner from taking office.

After a SLED investigation concluded there was nothing to the allegations by Eldridge, these three did everything they could to keep Eldridge in his administrator’s position including a bombastic display by Disabato in a special council meeting held to discuss Eldridge’s future.

They continue to support the Lazarus agenda two years after Lazarus lost a primary for reelection. For example, when Lazarus worked behind the scenes to get an area designated scenic and conservation rezoned for development, Crawford, Loftus and Disabato voted for the rezoning regardless of the potential flooding issues associated with the development.

Council will be making important decisions over the next few years regarding land use regulations, impact fees and improvements to the county’s stormwater management plan. Citizens need council members who will consider the welfare of the county as a whole as these important issues are considered, not ones who consider nothing more than what developers want.

Emotions Running High as Elections Near

Earlier this week I wrote an article about several candidates in the upcoming Republican primary elections to which some readers took offense.

That’s fine. Democracy is supposed to be messy and I don’t expect people to agree with me all the time nor I with them. If that were to happen, we wouldn’t have a democratic society, we would have a cult.

Some of the people who took difference to what I wrote were important members of the citizens’ groups who helped elect Johnny Gardner as Horry County Council Chairman in 2018.

Their and my primary goal is to elect candidates who will represent the general citizenry of Horry County, not special interests.

Specifically, they believed I was attacking Terry Fowler, a candidate for county council in District 9.

Actually that was not what I intended. What I intended was to criticize that many seemed to choose Fowler as ‘their’ candidate very early on before all the candidates in the race were even known.

When some of those other candidates emerged and a choice was already made by some voters, those candidates were immediately dismissed as candidates of the people because they sell real estate.

I don’t believe people should be condemned merely because of the job they have or the people they know.

If that were the case, consider this: there are ties in the Fowler family to a former job with what I categorize as a premier member of what I call the Myrtle Beach Mafia.  This employer was in the midst of the $325,000 in campaign donations to local and state incumbents who were responsible for the establishment and enactment of the tourism development fee in Myrtle Beach, as well as other special interest issues.

This is the same person who was a strong supporter and former business associate of Mark Lazarus, the former council chairman.

But, it goes further than employment. Only one candidate in the District 9 race has spoken with Gardner about county issues. That candidate, one of the real estate write-offs, is the only candidate in the District 9 race to date who has pledged to support the passage of impact fees in Horry County.

Myrtle Beach Rejects Open Talks on Hospitality Fees

Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune sent a letter to Horry County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner last week rejecting public negotiations on a county plan for splitting hospitality fees.

Myrtle Beach wanted to hold any negotiations in secret using a lawsuit the city filed against the county last month over hospitality fee collection as the excuse for needing to keep discussions behind closed doors.

However, anyone who has followed local politics for even a short while understands the proclivity of local governments to conduct as much real discussion of issues as possible out of public view.

There is a very good reason for this. Often, the genesis of the issues kept most secret comes not from local elected officials, but rather from the special interests who have the ear of the politicians and who have been very effective through the decades pushing agendas that most benefit those interests.

The current hospitality fee issue dates back at least three years to the beginning of 2016. At that time, the projects funded by the Ride II tax were coming to completion. The hospitality and real estate interests began pushing the need for a Ride III referendum.

Informal talks between special interest leaders and local politicians developed a plan to promote passage of a Ride III referendum as well as continuation of hospitality fee collections countywide to fund I-73 construction within Horry County.

The special one-cent sales tax approved with Ride II and Ride III referendums pay for many projects that improve roads within the county that have become congested with traffic from new developments. These costs should be paid for directly by developers or impact fees rather than all the citizens of the county, but the hospitality and real estate lobbies have been able to avoid this to date.

The Ride III referendum was passed by voters in November 2016. County council removed the sunset provision from hospitality fee ordinance in the spring of 2017 at the behest of Lazarus, county administrator Chris Eldridge and county attorney Arrigo Carotti.

Tomorrow’s Special Council Meeting, Gardner and the People v. DiSabato

Horry County Council will hold a special meeting tomorrow to discuss the SLED report and the part played by Administrator Chris Eldridge in taking false allegations to SLED in order to prompt an investigation of Chairman Johnny Gardner.

It is obvious from the SLED report and lack of evidence of any wrongdoing, Eldridge tried to set up Gardner in order to advance a particular agenda.

What is that agenda? It appears to be to subvert the will of the tens of thousands of voters who put Gardner in office in order to effect much needed change in the way the county was being run.

The agenda includes attempting to guarantee construction of Interstate 73 while ignoring the infrastructure already in place. The recent flooding in three of the last four years demonstrates there is immediate need for improvements and flood mitigation on U.S. 501, S.C. 22 and S.C. 9 as well as needs for improvements on Hwy 90 and Hwy 905.

It includes ignoring the needs for increased staffing for public safety departments while pushing the purchase of $12 million of swamp land for some kind of half-baked wetlands mitigation scheme.

It includes alienating an overwhelming majority of county employees by mistaking the title administrator for dictator.

It includes picking a fight with Treasurer Angie Jones over the addition of one person in her office while costing the county more money in legal fees than would have been spent to fund the position as well as attempting to dictate to other countywide elected officials while only filling an appointed position.

It includes a half-baked scheme to extend the collection of hospitality fees to fund the I-73 project that the cities are in the process of destroying, thereby losing a potential source of revenue that could have benefited the citizens of the entire county by helping fund some of the above mentioned needs.

It includes never taking a serious look at how impact fees could be used in order to keep current residents from having to fund goods and services for new development.

Horry County Voters Send Message on Impact Fees, Representation to County Council

Horry County voters resoundingly supported the concept of having new construction pay for the improvements in county goods and services it requires on a referendum question Tuesday night.

Asked whether they supported imposing impact fees on new development, 74,904 voters out of the 103,186 answering the question, said YES.

The question was asked as an advisory referendum, which means it is non-binding and only an expression of voter will. However, when such an overwhelming majority of voters supports an issue, elected officials would do well to hear the message being sent.

State law currently includes language for imposing impact fees, but the legislation is so restrictive as to make it generally useless to a local government.

In the past, Horry County’s legislative delegation has been responsible for much of that language and has generally listened to the wishes of the real estate and development lobby at the expense of average citizens.

Many of these legislators have been given a ‘free pass’ in elections with little or no opposition to their holding office. It is time for that to change.

Results from Horry County Council contests in this election cycle provide an interesting view of what may be to come when solid challengers take on incumbents.

There were two contested Republican primaries with challenger Johnny Gardner defeating incumbent Mark Lazarus by 111 votes for the council chairman nomination. Gardner was unopposed in last night’s general election and will take office in January 2019.

Incumbent Bill Howard squeaked by challenger Dean Pappas by 33 votes in the other contested primary to barely hold onto his Council District Two seat.