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Horry County ready to force developers to pay for the cost of growth

A view of the Palmetto Pointe Boulevard area off U.S. 17 Bypass from the air in March 2015.
A view of the Palmetto Pointe Boulevard area off U.S. 17 Bypass from the air in March 2015.

Horry County staff could start drafting impact fee legislation during the next fiscal year as part of an effort to make developers pay for the cost of growth, according to council Chair Mark Lazarus.

And Horry County is growing. Its population is projected to increase by more than 100,000 people by 2040. As of December, there were 53,000 multifamily and single-family residential units zoned and awaiting building permits.

According to the county's budget, revenue has increased 7 percent, from fiscal year 2016's total revenue to the budgeted revenue during fiscal year 2018. By comparison, expenditures have increased 11 percent, although the county still has almost $40 million in fund balance.

South Carolina does have an impact fee law, which allows counties to assess a fee on a developer for infrastructure within that particular development. But the law doesn't allow funds to be used outside the development, and it doesn't pay for staffing increases.

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That means that if a new neighborhood is built, the impact fees can't pay for additional firefighters or police to cover the area, and it can't pay to improve surrounding roads to handle the increase in traffic.

"What we have right now totally ties our hands," councilor Johnny Vaught said.

That's why the county wants to draft a less restrictive bill that the county could use. But it won't be easy.

"It’s going to be tough one," Lazarus said. "There’s a huge lobbying effort against changing it."

The lobbying effort comes from the Home Builder's Association, said Lazarus, who added that the county wants to work with developers and Realtors to draft legislation in which everyone is happy.

"We’ve got some meetings set up to work with [the Coastal Carolina Realtor’s Association] and the Home Builders Association to have a frank discussion about growth and how we can work together and who pays for it," Lazarus said.

Vaught said it makes sense for county staff to work on drafting legislation.

"I would’ve expected that to happen because our staffers know what we need," Vaught said. "We’re going to be proactive with our (legislative) delegation. It’s something we really need."

If new impact fee legislation isn't passed, the county could raise taxes, said councilor Harold Worley.

"It’s either that or where going to have to raise millage on every home, every business and every car," Worley said. "This rampant growth has got to be paid for and who’s going to pay for it? I can tell you right now I don’t believe the majority of taxpayers want to subsidize new development.

"There’s developers out there, they’re coming in and developing new homes, taking the money and leaving the taxpayers problems caused by that development," Worley said. "We’ve got issues that we’re going to be talking about in budget retreat."

But Vaught wasn't as worried about a tax increase.

"I have not seen numbers that would cause us to increase millage," Vaught said. "I’m pretty sure it’s not going to happen."

Christian Boschult, 843-626-0218, @TSN_Christian

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