To have development impact fees or not to have impact fees – is that the question? (Actually, the question is who’s gonna pay for that development impact)
BEAUFORT – It seems like such a simple concept – charging new homeowners for the increase in government services they create so taxpayers who are already living here don’t have to foot all those costs.
Local governments across the country have been adding on these impact fees to building costs as a way to pay for projects the tax base just doesn’t cover.
Indeed, Beaufort County Council and the municipalities have been talking about impact fees of one sort or the other for years. The library impact fee, for example, has been in place for most of the county – except the city of Beaufort and Port Royal – for more than a decade.
But Beaufort County Council members demonstrated last week it’s not simple and it certainly gets political.
The County Council and various municipalities have been debating back and forth the issue of impact fees, how to pay for the additional services being demanded by new residents for things like transportation projects, parks and recreation, libraries, emergency services, fire protection and most recently, more schools.
The county even has an updated (2020) impact fee study to detail that need for additional fees to provide services for years ahead.
But the majority of council members decided to make a political move last week, in an apparent effort to force county municipal leaders to make their move in this chess game by voting to just do away with all development impact fees.
The elected officials were scheduled to give third and final votes of approval to the ordinances making changes to the fee schedule for parks and recreation projects, for libraries, for emergency medical services and fire protection.
Their votes included abolishing the school impact fees, which had just been adopted last year, and projected to add $9,000 in new costs for new homes and $4,500 for multi-unit construction.
Councilman Logan Cunningham announced the surprise move, saying he was tired of the back-and-forth discussions, or, as he said “kicking this can down the road.” The majority of members agreed.
It was only Councilman Chris Hervochon of Hilton Head, who must have missed all the back-door discussions, abstaining on the vote, agreeing that the sudden move seemed to be something of a “knee jerk” reaction and he wanted more information … and certainly more than 15 minutes to think about it.
Will it work? Last week’s vote was the first; two more are required plus a public hearing before impact fees go away.
Will the municipalities come together and agree on some kind of joint resolution? We sure know folks are gonna continue to move here and we know SOMEONE’S gonna have to pay for more schools, road improvements, parks, libraries, etc.
Local races shaped up for June 14 primaries
BEAUFORT – Last week’s filing deadline for the spring primaries produced few surprises and only a few actual contests.
As reported before, Sheriff P.J. Tanner will face opposition from his own Republican party, from former deputy JoJo Woodward. Since no Democrats have filed for the office, the June 14 primary may well determine the sheriff’s race unless an independent candidate decides to run. Which doesn’t usually happen but who knows?
County Council incumbents Paul Sommerville and Alice Howard, again, as reported last week, will face opposition from within their own Republican party. Local attorney David Bartholomew filed to run against Sommerville for the District 2 seat, the winner to face Democrat Marilyn Harris in November.
Howard faces GOP opposition from Ashley McElveen, owner of a local bail bondsman company, and Josh Scallate, Lady’s Island firefighter, for the District 4 seat. No Democrats filed for that seat.
Embattled county Auditor Jim Beckert, who’s been fighting harassment lawsuits for the past two years, didn’t file to run again, but two other Republicans David Cadd of Beaufort and Willie Turrall of St. Helena did.
And there’s a Republican primary race for the state House District 121 (much of St. Helena and Lady’s Island) which Democrat Michael Rivers has represented for the past six years. Eric Erickson and Timothy Swain will be on the June ballot in a race to face Rivers in November.
Davis moving south
BEAUFORT – And it comes as no surprise that state Sen. Tom Davis confirmed last week he’s building a house in Bluffton to be with his new people.
Thanks to redistricting, which of course is thanks to the thousands of new residents who moved here, Davis, who has represented Beaufort, Port Royal and parts of northern Beaufort County in District 46 for the past 14 years, is crossing the Broad River.
We assume, when he’s not in Columbia handling legislative matters, he’ll still be practicing law with the Harvey & Battey law firm where he’s worked since coming to Beaufort in 1985.
In the meantime, those of us he leaves behind on this side of the Broad will be represented in the state Senate by Sen. Chip Campsen (R-District 43) who lives in Charleston and Sen. Margie Bright (D-District 45) who lives in Walterboro.
And for the first time in the county’s history, the city of Beaufort, seat of county government, will be without its own state senatorial district.
As one observer noted, the late Senators James M. Waddell and Niels Christensen, both political powerhouses in their day, must be spinning in their graves.
Of course these senate races won’t take place until 2024 so we’ll have some time to figure it all out.
P.S. The medical marijuana bill, aka The Compassionate Care Act, that Davis worked so hard for seven years to get past the state Senate saw a flicker of hope last week when a House subcommittee of the Medical, Military and Municipal Public Affairs agreed to send it to the full committee.
Supporters of the bill are still hopeful it can pass the House in the remaining two months of this year’s session.
Lolita Huckaby Watson is a community volunteer and former reporter/editorial assistant/columnist with The Beaufort Gazette, The Savannah Morning News, Bluffton Today, Beaufort Today and The Robesonian (Lumberton, N.C.). She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.