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Expensive county impact fees will drive away new retail, restaurants and industry

A grocery store like Trader Joe’s would have to fork over an extra $100,000 to operate in Carolina Forest if the Horry County Council starts collecting impact fees for new development this year.

That’s because officials plan to charge fees of more than $7,400 per 1,000 square feet of new retail businesses in unincorporated parts of the county, and a store like Trader Joe’s likes to stretch out to 15,000 square feet.

County voters wanted the impact fees in order to offset the cost of growth on infrastructure, and in 2018 they passed a ballot measure by 76% to green light collection by the county.

What residents did not intend, was for the fee structure to be so expensive it threatened to stifle economic growth and jobs.

Why would a developer endeavor to attract a Trader Joe’s, or any large-chain retailer, if those efforts result in additional fees costing them more than $100,000?

Hospitals and other “institutional” buildings like schools face the highest fees.

A new medical office building would have to pay half a million dollars and higher.

New hotels face stiff fees of $259,000 to build a 100-room lodge.

The high fees also contradict the county’s efforts to attract economic development — an industrial building the size of Metglas would face a $156,000 fee.

Everyone who purchases a newly built home will have to pay a fee of  nearly $5,000.

The referendum passed by voters specifically states impact fees would shift “some of the burden of funding necessary improvements from existing taxpayers to the new development creating the demand.”

But that’s not exactly how county council is planning to spend the money.

Instead, it’s sounding suspiciously like a slush fund for pet projects in areas not directly affected by growth.

Before passing the impact fee later this summer as planned, council first had to commission a study that shows how much money they would collect from different types of developments.

During the presentation of this study at a recent council workshop, an interesting list of projects was also revealed showing where the money would be spent, ostensibly to alleviate community growing pains.

More than $200 million was slated to go towards parks, trails and more ballfields countywide.

Toping that wish list was $12 million for a recreation center in Aynor, with an additional $12 million for another recreation center in Loris.

Further down the list, less than $4 million over 10 years would go to police, and about $25 million for fire and EMS. When council ordered the impact fee study, there was no mention of adding another stormwater fee.

None of that is really surprising, because county council just hiked our taxes to spend more on public safety, and increased our stormwater fees to generate $18.7 million for flood prevention projects.

And yet, council sent the $144,000 impact fee study they commissioned back to the drawing board, telling staff to keep studying until they come up with other stormwater projects so impact fees can be hiked even higher.

Never mind that we already pay a stormwater fee, or that all new developments must contain and prevent runoff of all their stormwater, now the county has decided to create a second stormwater fee .

Never mind the governor’s floodwater commission just finished its study and identified projects to prevent flooding.

Council also seems to have forgotten about their $400,000 flood resiliency study plan still ongoing to identify flood risks in Horry County, in order to apply for state and federal grants to pay for all the work.

And while we’re on the topic, what’s the status of all that federal disaster money from recent hurricanes? Can’t any of that be used for stormwater or flood mitigation?

County Council needs to cool their heels, stop duplicating studies, and focus on the funding already available for flood projects before creating even more fees that only serve to discourage economic development. 

Stop pandering to climate and political activists who insist government can fight God to prevent the rain from falling, and the rivers from rising, if only they would tax all new development out of existence. 

Impact fees were supposed to offset the cost of growth to impacted areas — not as a tool to make the cost of growth and economic development prohibitive.

And the last thing voters intended, was to create a slush fund for council members to build even more recreation centers we can’t afford.

Here are the impact fees county council is considering:

Price per 1,000 square feet.

  • $7,439 Retail
  • $5,728 Institutional (hospitals, schools, etc.)
  • $2,857 Office
  • $1,155 Industrial
  • $2,587 per hotel room
  • $4,565 flat fee per home
  • $3,046 flat fee per condo