It's funny how people who have never paid an impact fee when they moved into the county now want to impose impact fees on new home buyers. No matter that more than half the new-home buyers are existing county residents. They also don't want to even consider that the economic impact, and the expansion of the tax base the building of a new home, office building, or retail location has, may indeed already pay for itself and then some.
In fact, there was an article in the Charleston Post and Courier newspaper in February of this year entitled "Benefits of new homes outweigh cost to governments." South Carolina has some high growth areas and so the South Carolina Board of Realtors and their state Home Builders Association wanted to determine the cost of this growth.
They sponsored an independent economic researcher, Impact DataSource of Austin, Texas, to do a study of six new neighborhoods in three fast-growing South Carolina counties. This firm has conducted fiscal impact analyses of more than 1,500 projects in 15 states. Their in-depth 132 page study concludes that "each new home pumps $1,412 more into the economy via construction jobs, taxes and residents' spending than they take away from local governments needing to pay for additional roads, schools and infrastructure."
This would explain why Columbia County was able to fund a first-class Patriots Park, an expanding Evans government center complex, the renovation of the Appling courthouse, the purchase of land for a number of new parks, new walking/bike paths, new sheriff's and emergency management facilities, a new courthouse to rival any in the Southeast as well one of the best libraries and performing arts centers in the state.
These are just some of the projects that have been completed over the past 10-plus years, all of this without a property tax millage rate increase in years. This also occurred during a time when most Columbia County residents did a majority of their shopping outside of our county. The big engine feeding SPLOST projects then was the millions upon millions of dollars new home buyers were spending in materials and hard goods for their new homes, as well as the thousands of construction workers spending millions per year in area stores around their work areas.
Finally, large retail is now following the rooftops and many more residents are doing their shopping in the county. Office parks, banks, restaurants, medical facilities, car dealerships, etc. are now open or are planning to open in the near future, creating many new jobs in our area and making it much more convenient for county shoppers, medical patients and employees. In the past, the big sales tax generators in the county were the construction industry, namely new or long time residents having new homes built. Now, with all the new shopping choices here or on the way, the entire county is beginning to keep a much larger share of their sales tax dollars here for many other goods and services.
This will make a huge impact, as 3 cents of sales tax money stays in the county - 2 cents for schools and 1 cent for SPLOST. This has funded a number of capital projects over the years and will increase dramatically in the future thanks to this growth.
Before we advocate an impact fee, we should have a study done in our area to determine if a citizen builds a new home, a businessman builds an auto shop, or a doctor builds his new office, etc. does the economic benefit to the county pay its way and, if not, what is the shortfall. Because of what we have accomplished over these past 10-15 years on the backs of mainly citizens having only new homes built, I would not be surprised if, like the South Carolina study shows, our new home buyers were also contributing more than they cost.
Tom Werner, Evans
(Tom Werner is a Columbia County builder who served as a member of the county's Impact Fee Committee.)
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