Beaufort News

Impact fees on new development to be reconsidered as Beaufort County emerges from recession

The impact fees Beaufort County charges on new development could be changing next year as the economy rebounds and building resumes, county officials said Monday.

The fees are collected on new commercial and residential development to help pay for the roads, fire service, libraries and parks the new shoppers and residents add to their area of the county.

But the fees have not been adjusted in nearly 10 years -- before the county's building boom was crushed by the economic recession and its population grew by more than 40,000, county administrator Gary Kubic said.

"It's cause and effect," County Councilman Jerry Stewart said Monday. "It's very important to understand what it is we're trying to accomplish in the county, and is this an impediment or does it accomplish what we want it to? I think we're sort of out of sync on those things."

In 1999, the county was behind on the road, park, fire protection and sometimes the school infrastructure it needed to keep up with blooming development along US 278, SC 170 and throughout northern Beaufort County, county officials said. To compensate, the county asked developers to help cover the costs and have been setting aside the money in funds dedicated to particular geographic areas and needs ever since.

Over the years, those assessments have added up, Kubic said.

The highest costs, for example, add $5,482 in fees per new home in a residential development in Bluffton or Okatie. At their lowest, the fees add $1,509 in fees per new home in Sheldon and Lobeco, according to county documents.

Beaufort County impact fees by area and service

But after a decade, those fees may be "out of whack" with what Bluffton or Sheldon actually need for roads or libraries, Councilman Rick Caporale said.

"We need to look at whether we've met those emerging needs," Councilman Brian Flewelling said, echoing Caporale and other council members. "It's a tax, and at the end of the day as a conservative, I have to try to limit them."

The fees might also be a barrier to entry for new developers looking to break into the local market or build more affordable housing, Caporale and Bensch added. The current fee schedules include discounts for housing deemed affordable based on household median incomes, but it stands to be reviewed and updated, they said.

"My concern is: It's an impediment to development overall, but it's an absolute burden on the smaller developer who might want to put up what I consider actually affordable housing," Caporale said.

Those are questions the county must address through a new emerging-needs study, which county staff will consider over the next two months, Kubic said.

The council is likely to consider changes to its impact fee schedule at its retreat in February, councilman Jerry Stewart said.

"We were supposed to look at this every five years, but we obviously haven't done that, and it's been too long," Stewart said. "It's not necessarily that we keep them or not, but is the charge in keeping with our needs?"

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