Georgetown looks to lower fees

Georgetown County is moving toward lowering its controversial development impact fees by as much as $2,000.

Georgetown County Council gave second reading approval to revisions in the year-old impact fees Tuesday by a 6-1 vote with Councilman Rob Charlton dissenting.

The measure requires three votes to be final.

The fees are designed to help pay for capital improvement projects because new development increases the burden on public services.

Local developers and builders opposed the fees when they came before the council in February, saying it would slow development and put undue burden on an industry already suffering in the tough economic climate.

Georgetown County Council members say they are lowering the fee because of a formula change, not because of pressure from public opinion.

Sel Hemingway, the county administrator, said the process for implementing impact fees is strictly regulated by the state, and part of that regulation is to have a yearly review of the projects that will be paid for with impact fee revenue.

He said the county recently reviewed its projects and found that several had been picked up by the S.C. Department of Transportation, meaning the cost of those highway projects could be taken off of the impact fee.

"A re-computation of the fees were necessitated," he said, "should [the council] not choose to replace those projects with other projects."

If given final approval, the new fee would be a flat fee of $4,078.

Hemingway said the previous fee went as high as $5,900, but varied depending on where in the county the development was taking place.

The proposed fee would be uniform throughout the county. Hemingway said that amendment was suggested during the review to simplify the process.

Another revision to the ordinance was that mobile homes be exempt from the fee, since the vast majority of those developments were exempted based on income and other criteria.

Charlton called the lowering of the fee a "step in the right direction," but said "my position is still the same." He also voted against the impact fees in February.

He said he felt those fees would be a burden to homeowners and new businesses trying to come to the area. He said he is supportive of the capital improvement plan.

The original passage of the fees was opposed by residents and developers alike.

No one spoke for or against the new fee Tuesday.

The council will consider final reading of the new fee and amended ordinance at its next meeting on Sept. 14.