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‘We gotta have the money’: Horry County voters get to decide on impact fees

Impact fees have a complicated, contentious history and state law controls a lot of what counties can do with the money.

Soon, Horry County voters will have a chance to voice their opinion on the prospect.

A non-binding referendum question will be on the November ballots asking voters how they feel about Horry County implementing some kind of impact fee.

County councilman Harold Worley, who proposed the referendum and is a long supporter of impact fees, said the county has two options: either raises taxes or impose an impact fee.

“We gotta have the money,” he said. “If we don’t we won’t be able to get a cop to your house.”

This referendum does not necessarily change any policies and council members did not discuss specifics of what an impact fee might look like. The purpose is to give county council members and the public more information on where voters stand. The resolution was approved at the county council’s only August meeting.

Essentially, impact fees allow a county to charge developers building in the community to help pay for infrastructure costs. The fee can be used to help build things like public safety buildings and roads in the neighborhood where the money was collected.

Worley believes that the developers, not the tax payers, need to shoulder the bill for the infrastructure strains created by new construction. He said residents are not going to accept a tax increase.

Chairman Mark Lazarus agreed that avoiding a tax increase is a priority.

“Something has to be done to protect the citizens that are already here, and the citizens moving here,” Lazarus said. “What I don’t want to see our property taxes go up.”

Lazarus reiterated the need to reform the state laws and better understand the effect of such a fee. He said the information from the referendum would be used to show the state legislature where the voters of Horry County stand on the issue.

He acknowledged the fees can only be used for infrastructure, but having the money to help the county build would free up money in the general fund.

“The pressure our budget is getting extremely great,” Lazarus said. “It’s a balancing act.”

Marvin Heyd, who sits on the Horry County Planning Commission, said during public comment before the council discussed the issue that impact fees are complicated and can potentially hurt growth. He cited a Charleston Post & Courier article that said Mount Pleasant has seen a decrease in growth since instituting an impact fee. He said the increased regulation raises prices for the home buyers, who ultimately shoulder the cost.

“If fewer people can afford to buy new homes, fewer homes will be built,” Heyd said.

Heyd was not opposed to the discussion and fielded council questions. During public comment he said allowing for studies to be done on the affect impact fees would help the public be informed before they decide.

“I think with good planning and good wisdom, it will be palatable,” Heyd said.

Lazarus said that during the budget retreat earlier this year for the 2018-19 budget, councilors asked staff to make a presentation on impact fees and what needed to be changed in state laws. This will be presented to council on Sept. 30. He said this information will help inform voters on the issue a month before they vote.

“This isn’t the cure all by any means, it’s just one of the tools in the toolbox,” he said.

It’s going to be a long process before Horry County will vote on an impact fee. A study of how the fee will be used is first required by current state law. Then Changes in state laws might be necessary to address the county’s needs.

It could be several years before formal legislation is debated.

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