County leaders mull fee to pay for public safety center

New homes and businesses across Lexington County may help pay for a public safety center planned near Batesburg-Leesville.

A countywide fee for such projects is being considered after county leaders learned that limiting the idea to development in the western half of the county wouldn’t raise much revenue for the project.

“It’s not a panacea,” consultant Carson Bise told County Council members recently. “But it gives you more flexibility.”

A countywide fee also could be used for future public safety improvements elsewhere in the 758-square-mile county, he added.

It’s unclear yet how much the fee could add to the price of a new home. That won’t be known until completion of study on how much public safety services could be expanded to deal with growth expected to transform the largely rural western half of the county into suburbs by 2050.

But Mr. Bise predicted it would be only a few dollars extra on a monthly mortgage payment, with the same rate for all homes.  

The proposal is raising many questions that need to be “vetted out” before county leaders decide if it’s worth pursuing, according to Councilman Larry Brigham of Batesburg-Leesville. “I’m on the fence about it since there are too many questions unanswered yet,” he said.

Interest in the fee arose as a way to help pay for a facility that will consolidate deputies, firefighters, ambulance crews and magistrates scattered across the area into a central location. The site chosen is on U.S. 1 midway between Batesburg-Leesville and Gilbert.

No price tag is known for the project, although Mr. Bise suggested that it could be at least $9 million.

Some council members are skeptical of the fee after Mr. Bise said that it will vary for businesses, depending on size. “That means we’re going to come after the business community again,” Councilman Todd Cullum of Cayce said. “The question is whether this is worthwhile.”

It might be fairer and simpler to borrow money for the center and spread the cost into everyone’s property taxes or keep saving for the project even that means waiting longer to build it, he said.

County Administrator Joe Mergo warned that revenue from a new fee tied to growth likely will be less than forecast.

Many new neighborhoods and businesses are annexed into communities as a condition of receiving water and sewer service, a step that would erase fees for those developments, he said.

Developers are waiting for the shape of the fee plan to emerge before taking a position on the idea.