ADVOCACY

The Advocates: Mount Pleasant Council Rushes Through 250% Fee Hike

WRITTEN BY lclark 1 year ago

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Finalizing the budget before next week’s recess dominated activities in Columbia this week. With an exceptionally tight budget this year, there is little of widespread consequence to report. Before leaving for a furlough week, the Senate did leave the infrastructure funding bill (H.3516) in interrupted debate. This means the bill will be debated once they return on April 18. Next week we will ask for you to reach out to several targeted Senators in our region. Business organizations across the state will be in full court press to pass a roads bill when the Legislature reconvenes.  While most of the action was below the surface at the State House this week, there were fireworks on the local front.

On Monday, the Town of Mount Pleasant voted 5-4 to dramatically increase impact fees on new development projects. The measure, adopted at a specially called council meeting, nearly triples total impact fees. The staggering scale of this fee hike, combined with the hurry to pass and lack of public input, leave many wondering what just happened. Here are the details:

Background:

An impact fee is a one-time fee imposed by local government on a new development project. They are intended to offset the cost of providing public services. Mount Pleasant has had impact fees in place since 1988; it is one of only 10 municipalities in the state to adopt them. These fees are on top of impact fees charged by Mount Pleasant Waterworks and don’t include taxes, permitting fees, any project-specific environmental mitigation fees.

This Ordinance:

As part of their Capital Improvement Plan, the Town of Mount Pleasant commissioned a study to recommend new maximum allowable rates for impact fees for fire, municipal, transportation and recreation. The ordinance that passed Monday pegs fees at 80% of the study’s maximum allowable rate. Implementation phases in quickly with the first hike happening this July, followed by increases in January and July of 2018. Once fully implemented the fees add significant cost to all new construction projects. For example:

 Newly Adopted FeesPrior FeesPercentage Increase
Restaurant
(7,500 sq ft)
$204,432$57,716254%
General Office Building
(50,000 sq ft)
$255,881$77,000232%
Medical Office Building
(50,000 sq ft)
$707,881$203,000249%
Shopping Center
(100,000 sq ft)
$1.13 million$328,000244%
Single Family Dwelling$6,161$1,860231%

Incentivizing Sprawl, Adding Traffic:

Heaping new costs on business expansion is the opposite of smart growth. Adding cost to projects won’t change growth rates, it simply encourages construction outside of the town limits. That means more people driving further in all directions to work, shop, and dine. This fee hike is an incentive for sprawl and will cause more traffic.

Fewer Options:

While proponents claim that developers are the only ones who’ll pay, these fee increases impact every resident. Any businesses planning to expand on the east side of the metro region will now look outside the Town of Mount Pleasant. For residents, that means fewer new dining, shopping, employment or health care options close to home.

Smaller Tax Base:

While they may promise quick cash for capital improvements, impact fees limit the Town’s future revenue potential. When businesses evaluate the added upfront cost from impact fees and decide to invest elsewhere, the Town of Mount Pleasant loses out on years of property tax revenue. No new growth means a stagnate property tax base and flat town budget. Promoting responsible growth within the town limits would broaden the base of ratepayers and increase the town’s capacity to serve all residents.

Rushed Through:

The speed and way this measure was adopted is troubling. The rate increase that passed was never in the public record before Monday. It seems even members of Council didn’t know degree of fee hike that would be voted on until earlier the same morning. Initial discussion took place during a town council retreat in January.  First vote on the measure (with very different numbers) was in late February. The final vote took place, not in a regularly scheduled council meeting, but in a hastily called special midday meeting. This was a rush job.

Little Input:

The timing seems tailor made to limit public comment. There was no organized effort to consult the businesses and builders who’ll be subject to the fees, nor any effort to coordinate with development projects already in the works. The process for this fee hike does not reflect open, accountable government.

Closed for Business:

There is no way to sugar coat it; this is a big blow to the region. By instituting impact fees at this level, Mount Pleasant is signaling that they are effectively closed to new projects. The result is likely more sprawl and more traffic for all.

Take Action:

This fee is already on the books, but that doesn’t mean your voice can’t still be heard. If you live or work in Mount Pleasant, contact each member of council today and tell them what you think about their decision to pass a 250% fee increase with scant public input.

**Will Mount Pleasant’s New Impact Fees hurt your plans to build, grow and hire? We want to know about it. Share your story with: iscott@charlestonchamber.org

Read how the Post and Courier covered this issue:
Mount Pleasant approve huge hike in development impact fees – April 3, 2017
Still-changing plan to hike Mount Pleasant impact fees could be approved Monday – March 31, 2017
Mount Pleasant moving forward with big increases in development impact fees – Feb. 21, 2017

 

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