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Proposed fee for Clover School District is lower. But that didn't stop the debate.

The Herald (Rock Hill, SC) logo The Herald (Rock Hill, SC) 8/26/2020 By John Marks, The Herald (Rock Hill, S.C.)

York County

After almost four hours of debate on Tuesday, new Clover School District impact fees are now headed toward a Sept. 8 final decision.

The fees will be less than a quarter of what the school district requested.

“Starting out at $4,000 now is kind of the proactive way to do it,” said York County Councilman William “Bump” Roddey.

Council held a public hearing Tuesday at the McCelvey Center in York to discuss impact fees, a one-time charge on new construction to pay for growth. Up for consideration were fees at more than $15,000 per new home, almost $10,000 per mobile home and more than $7,000 per apartment. Council instead voted for $4,000 per home, with lower costs for apartments and mobile homes.

Councilwoman Allison Love serves the Clover and Lake Wylie areas within the school district. Average home price and other demographics vary widely, she said, and $4,000 is the highest figure the western side of her district can bear.

“We are not a one size fits all community,” Love said.

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Love made the motion for the $4,000 amount that would start in January. She heard people on Tuesday talk about incoming residents paying impact fees, but Love said there is a bigger picture.

“You can aim at the new people but when you miss, and you hit somebody that’s been here their whole life, that’s a problem,” she said.

Builders against impact fees

There were 15 speakers against new impact fees. Most of them said they were builders, many stating they are lifelong residents in the county.

“I don’t think it’s right,” said Steve Brown, who owns a heating and plumbing company. “What are the two basic things all people need? One, food. The other is shelter. And to section out a small group of citizens to put a burden on them for either of those two things I think is fundamentally wrong.”

Brown, a former school board member, said it could hurt the district’s ability to pass future bond referenda if it alienates builders, a large section of the business community.

Family business builder Jonathan Huffstetler said he moved from Gaston County after hearing his whole life of two main advantages the Clover area has.

“Probably everybody in this room can name those two reasons of why you move from Gaston County to York County,” he said. “The first one you always hear is taxes. Taxes are cheaper. The second one is the school systems are greater. They’re great school systems.”

Huffstetler said he prefers a tax increase across the board, which he said would help schools and still leave taxes lower than in North Carolina.

Builder Chris Munsey agreed.

“I don’t agree that you tax new people coming into town who are building a new residence, moving into buying a piece of property, who are struggling to get a mobile home, modular home, whatever,” he said. “Those fees are substantial.”

Opposition wasn’t all builders. An appraiser talked of a price increase without any value he can factor in, while a real estate company owner shared concerns.

Business owner Marissa Harris said she has plans to build a home on her own property, for the same family that already lives here and thus wouldn’t further burden the school district.

“I’m currently in a mad dash to submit my building permit to beat the impact fee, to build that same 2,300-square-foot home,” she said.

Sean Sides said he moved here from Texas two years ago and already has children who made it through the school system. As he enters the empty nest phase, he’s considering a new home.

“2020 has not been good for a lot of people,” Sides said. “It’s really starting to impact us.”

He didn’t put his current house on the market this past summer, he said, because of COVID-19. Now he has to decide whether his family will stay in a place he loves.

“You’re basically saying, we don’t want more people to come here,” Sides said.

Parents for impact fees

Parents, district employees, current and former school board and county council members all made the case for new fees. Including former county council member Tom Smith, a Lake Wylie developer.

“If we don’t control the growth and slow it down with the mass production, then we’re going to be looking at more impact fees, we’re going to be looking at more schools, more road congestion, more sewer lines down to Rock Hill,” he said. “That’s the essence of the problem.”

Yet most of the comments came from parents. They made their case prior to council discussion that lowered the amount from $15,000 to $4,000. Most said the higher amount is a good way to support the school district.

“We have a very vested interest in the state of our schools, and we are very concerned about the growth going forward,” said Melissa Cornish, parent of three school age children.

Cornish said she sees an impact fee as a reasonable cost for someone who comes here largely for the school district.

“If this area is so desirable for so many, and the new construction rate continues to is reasonable and proactive that some of this funding be passed along to our newest Clover-Lake Wylie residents,” she said.

Parent and district employee Heather Douge said the schools are a main reason behind the residential growth.

“Our quality educational design is typically a key element in their decision-making,” she said. “Parents want the very best for our children. We all do.”

If those parents choose to move here, she said impact fees make sense.

“The impact fee allows for new Clover School District families to enjoy Clover School District benefits while promoting growth with intention,” Douge said.

Jeff Ledford is chairman of the Lake Wylie Chamber of Commerce. His group supports impact fees in the $4,000 to $6,000 range to offset tax increases.

“Any increase in taxes that would be approved by voters would be a cost to any business in our community,” Ledford said.

The chamber has to consider what higher fees would mean for the local building industry.

“They were here before any regional or national tract home builder showed up in our area and with our support, hopefully they’ll be here when the big builders move on,” Ledford said.

Final impact fee decision

School district superintendent Sheila Quinn spoke of two years of work on an impact fee study. She talked about 4,300 new homes coming as of a 2018-19 study, which didn’t include a possible subdivision at 2,500 more homes. She talked of 8,056 students from that study two years ago and the 8,632 enrolled students when Clover started school Monday.

“It’s not to be for or against anything with growth,” Quinn said of her role. “It’s to be ready.”

Prior to the fee amount reduction Tuesday night it wasn’t lost on Quinn that most every speaker against the fee expressed support for and appreciation of the school district.

“We are inarguably one of the best school districts in the state, and it’s because of a lot of the people that you heard speak tonight,” she said. “And even though we don’t necessarily agree on this issue, you could see how much they are a part of our community, and how much they are a part of our school district.”

Roddey said it would be nice if council had flexibility to charge impact fees only to homes with school children. State law doesn’t allow it.

“It would be nice if we had some wiggle room.... but we don’t,” he said.

For people who want higher fees Roddey said the likely decision coming Sept. 8 shouldn’t discourage. Council could vote again to increase fees.

“This can only increase if the needs are not met,” he said.

Cost of education

The $4,000 figure isn’t set this side of the Sept. 8 vote, but the amount isn’t likely to go back up to $15,000. Councilman Britt Blackwell and other members said that figure is too high.

“I would not have supported anything higher than ($4,000),” Blackwell said.

Councilman Robert Winkler at one point made what turned out to be a failed motion to charge half of the $15,000 amount.

“I cannot support a number that is the maximum we can (charge by state law), just because we can,” he said.

Winkler also addressed pro-fee comments that it would slow residential growth in the school district.

“That’s not what the impact fee is designed for,” Winkler said. “.... It’s something that’s supposed to make growth pay for growth.”

Hamilton also took issue with comments that incoming families should have to pay extra for the quality education provided by the district.

“That model exists, and it’s called private school,” he said. “That is not the model that’s attributable to a public school. So if that’s the argument then I at a fundamental level could not support an impact fee.”

Johnson said he sees a tract builder problem in the area, and doesn’t want impact fees so high that they punish small builders. That isn’t the goal, he said.

“The goal here is to keep debt from overwhelming the school district,” Johnson said.


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