Bluffton City Council Hosts School Impact Fee Discussion

Bluffton City Council has decided to table its discussion of a proposed intergovernmental agreement with Beaufort County regarding the school impact fee.

The agreement would allow for the collection of school impact fees on new residential developments in the city. The fee would be collected at the time of the building permit application, according to assistant manager Heather Colin.

Mayor Lisa Sulka said at a Feb. 8 meeting that council had too many questions and concerns about the impact fee to properly vote on the deal.

Council members expressed concern about the language of the agreement as well as the effect the fee could have on affordable housing in the city.

Councilman Dan Wood said he wanted the county to include in the agreement that after five years the city and county would re-evaluate it to make sure it was the best decision for the city.

Wood said he saw in the agreement that the county would have the power to increase the impact fee by 50% without consulting the council. City attorney Terry Finger said he thought that part was negotiable and could have been left out of the agreement by mistake.

Sulka asked that city staff take the council’s concerns to the county.

May River High School

County Administrator Eric Greenway and Beaufort County Superintendent Frank Rodriguez presented the proposed impact fee to council on January 11.

Greenway said the county conducted a tuition study to determine where there is a greater need for schools due to expected student population growth. He said impact fees should be based on a service area, so the county was split into two areas: north and south of the Broad River.

Greenway said the study found that “growth south of the Broad service area was sufficient to justify the need for a school impact tax.” He said the area had grown so much that impact fees were needed to pay for school renovations and expansions to accommodate the growth.

North Beaufort County doesn’t need additional funding to expand schools because the area hasn’t seen the same rapid growth, he said.

School district operations manager Robert Oetting said Bluffton is where the county is seeing the most growth. Rodriguez said Bluffton adds 300 to 400 new students to public schools each year.

The impact fee would only apply to new units under construction, not existing residential units in the city. Colin said for a single-family unit in the city, the impact fee would be $9,535. For a multi-family unit, the fee would be $4,508. This fee would be the same for all municipalities south of the Broad.

Greenway said the county would submit both Hardeeville and Hilton Head Island with the same submission requesting the implementation of impact fees. Hardeeville and Hilton Head had not approved the charges Friday.

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