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Capital plan: Impact fee cut draws mixed reviews

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Action that slashed fees for new development on Waccamaw Neck by more than 30 percent last week elicited mixed reaction from impact fee opponents.

While some were appeased by the move, others said it’s not enough.

“The reduction is a minor step in the right direction, but I think the fee still puts too great a burden on people,” said Bill Murray, an associate broker with The Lachicotte Co.

Impact fees added about $6,000 to the cost of building a new home on Waccamaw Neck when the county started charging them about 13 months ago. The cost dropped to $4,078 last week, when County Council members agreed to do away with separate rates for different parts of the county, establishing countywide impact fees instead.

Murray said he thinks the cost on a new home needs to be reduced at least another $2,000.

Dan Stacy, chairman of the Alliance for Economic Development for Georgetown County, said he is satisfied with the reduction.

Stacy spoke to council last year on the behalf of the alliance, asking that the implementation of the fees be delayed for 18 months to give the economy a chance to recover, or that fees at least be lowered.

The alliance hasn’t met since the fees were cut, so Stacy said he can’t speak for the alliance, but the action is in line with what the group wanted.

He said he is especially pleased that the fee for commercial buildings was reduced.

“Everybody has been talking about the residential fee dropping,” but the commercial fee also saw a big reduction, said Boyd Johnson, the county planning director. “Just for an example, if you had built a nursing home a month ago, you would have paid $300 per bed. Now it’s $100 per bed.” Donald Smith, a partner in Smith Land Co., has been one of the most vocal opponents of the fee and said his position isn’t changed by the reduction.

He wants the fee removed.

“The building industry is in a depression,” he said. “The last thing we need to do right now is to be putting burdens on it.”

Smith said the impact fee hasn’t hurt his business, but “that’s because we’re slashing our prices to the bone.”

Coupled with the county’s unemployment rate, Smith said the impact fee, even at a reduced level, is a recipe for disaster.

“The two are not compatible,” he said.

The projects the fee pays for are also an issue for Smith. He questions whether they’re needed.

Impact fees help pay for infrastructure that an area will need as a result of growth caused by new development, taking the burden off existing tax payers. Fees charged on residential developments pay for new road and recreation projects, law enforcement, and libraries. For commercial developments, fees are only charged for roads and law enforcement.

Georgetown County’s impact fee is one component of funding for the county’s long-range capital improvement plan, which includes a tournament-level tennis complex in Litchfield.

“Waccamaw Neck has an overabundance of tennis courts,” Smith said. “Basically this will be competing against the private industry. And Georgetown has courts for people to play on.”

He also doubts the need for new libraries.

Alan Altman, broker in charge at Pawleys Island Realty, said he doesn’t doubt many of the projects impact fees will help pay for are valid, but he thinks the public needs to have more input on those projects. That would probably increase public support of impact fees, he said.

The capital improvement plan started with a community effort, Altman acknowledges, but when folks put together the wish list that evolved into the plan, the economy was in better shape. He said people need a chance to re-evaluate items on that list given current economic conditions.

Altman isn’t opposed to impact fees, he said, but he does believe they were put in place at an “inappropriate time.”

“The idea that you would add cost to anything at this point in time is a tough pill to swallow,” he said.

Smith said he’s given up on trying to sway current council members to do away with impact fees.

“The only way to change this is to try to form a grassroots political committee to fund candidates to run against the council members we have now,” he said.

The only “sympathetic ear” opponents have found on council is Ron Charlton, Smith said. He cast the lone vote against impact fees last year.

Bob Anderson, who is unopposed to represent Council District 6, supports putting a moratorium on impact fees and said the lower rates haven’t changed his stance.

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