Local

Horry County debates rate increases, local impact fees

The county stormwater department currently has more than $2.3 million in unfunded capital projects and studies that need to be done.
The county stormwater department currently has more than $2.3 million in unfunded capital projects and studies that need to be done. jlee@thesunnews.com
Horry County leaders will have to make a decision on how to address budget shortfalls in the county's stormwater department, which handles runoff of water from heavy storms and floods.


Two options councilors have before the next budget cycle are raising the stormwater fee, or assessing a local impact fee.


During the county's spring budget retreat Thursday, stormwater head Tom Garigen proposed a stormwater rate increase of $10 dollars from $29.40 per single family lot to $39.40. That would provide equipment and five additional staffers to to handle the workload, which has been increasing due to a growing population.


The stormwater budget before any rate increase is $5 million, said council Chair Mark Lazarus, who added that county staff are recommending and even higher rate increase to keep up with work. The rate hasn't been changed since it was implemented in 2000.


The department currently has more than $2.4 million in unfunded capital projects and studies that need to be done.


"The reason behind that is, as you saw before, we’re running behind in what we need for dollars in order to do the studies that we need in stormwater and address the issues that we have," Lazarus said. "What our collections are, are way behind what other municipalities and counties are."


Garigen told the county commission members that Charleston County's stormwater fee is $36, Georgetown County's fee is $51.60 and Myrtle Beach's is $63.


But rates aside, there's another option: impact fees.


State law doesn't allow impact fees on development to be used outside of that development, but councilor Harold Worley said the state will allow impact fees on utilities, and the county considers stormwater a utility.


"County staff interprets stormwater to be a utility, therefore we should be able to assess an impact fee on stormwater," said Worley. "It would just be on new development."


County administrators questioned whether or not state legislators would be happy with the idea, but Worley wasn't worried.


"Growth and development is creating the problem," Worley said. "Why don’t we just bite the bullet and say just do it. If they don’t like us in Columbia, they can send the sheriff down here to stop us."


Lazarus said a "watershed fee" could be implemented at the time of the certificate of occupancy.


"So a new customer moves in to pay for the stormwater that we’re gonna have to address that is created from that new development," said Lazarus, who directed county staff to bring back some idea on how the county could assess a watershed fee.


"We just do it, don’t worry about state law?" questioned County Administrator Chris Eldridge.


"Just do it," Lazarus said.


Christian Boschult, 843-626-0218, @TSN_Christian
  Comments