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Mount Pleasant tries to determine the cost of growth

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Mount Pleasant Town Council took steps Tuesday night to determine the true cost of growth for the fast-growing municipality by launching a nine-month process to re-evaluate impact fees for businesses.

Council voted unanimously to spend $75,000 to hire a consultant to delve into Mount Pleasant’s impact fee history and existing ordinance. The consultant will be tasked with conducting an impact fee study; reporting on how impact fees affect housing affordability; creating a capital improvement plan with specific projects; and developing an impact fee ordinance.

Council asked the town staff in May to look at the timing of impact fees and conduct an analysis to determine whether aligning the code with state law — which requires multiple steps — might help the town better manage growth.

On Tuesday, Town Council also voted 7-2, with Councilmen Mark Smith and Paul Gawrych voting against, to immediately change when impact fees are collected for development projects. Previously, developers paid impact fees at the end of a project, when a certificate of occupancy is issued.

Now, impact fees will be collected at the moment a project is permitted — which was the policy prior to the recession. Council members and Mayor Linda Page debated the need for the policy change.

Mount Pleasant staff members confirmed that the town has not had a problem collecting impact fees in the past because a certificate of occupancy would not be issued if the fees were not paid.

Page said impact fees collected from all projects go into a fund for work needed for future projects. Fees that were previously collected fuel work done for projects that are currently being built.

Councilman Mark Smith said the measure was onerous for small businesses that must monitor cash flow as they’re funding a project.

“I won’t be supporting this motion from a small-business owner perspective,” Smith said. “The town does not have a problem with this, and I don’t see how this is going to significantly improve the town’s financial performance ability.”

Councilman Will Haynie, who made the motion to change the timing, said the change protects the people of Mount Pleasant in case something goes wrong with a project.

“This is not anti-business; this is good business,” Haynie said. “I have yet to A) see many developers around Mount Pleasant right now who are on real hard times, and B) I have yet to see a developer in Mount Pleasant who gives you access to their amenities, to the use of their space or to the enjoyment of the benefits they provide until you have paid your entry to get in.”

Councilman Joe Bustos indicated the move to collect impact fees at the end of a project was used during the recession to help spark growth but that fees previously were collected at the beginning of projects.

“We’re just going back to where we were,” Bustos said. “The recession’s over. That’s what we had until 2008.”

Reach Andy Owens at 843-849-3142.

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