Town officials get ready for growth

Fort Mill leaders expect the town could triple its population in the next 20 years.

Joe Cronin, Fort Mill’s planning director, estimated the town’s 2010 U.S. Census population of 10,800 will grow to 30,000 by 2030. That swell would impact engineering, utilities and public works, and fire service and police protection would need to keep up.

Town administration is already looking at moving or expanding out of its location to keep up with the work being done as well as with an eye on what central facilities are needed to serve a population triple the current number.

“We’re just bursting from within,” Town Manager Dennis Pieper told Council at a meeting last week.

Handling growth

Cronin compared Fort Mill to Bluffton, a coastal town that’s growing faster per capita than Fort Mill. Bluffton was the only example Cronin found in-state. Bluffton has 20 people on its planning and development staff.

“We have a planning department of one,” Cronin said.

As Town Council recently asked staff to look into economic development incentives for business, Cronin said there are critical needs in his office, namely a transportation planner and engineers.

“There are a lot of things we could be doing that we aren’t doing,” he said.

Public safety is another concern. Fire Chief Jeff Hooper told Council it’s difficult to plan more than five or 10 years out. It also wouldn’t be productive looking out much further, he said.

“There’s some things that we need to get to work on now,” Hooper said.

His department is turning a home near Doby’s Bridge Park to a fire substation to serve the growing southern end of town. Hooper said other substations are needed in the Flint Hill area, Rivewview area near I-77 and the Sutton Road area near Love’s Plaza.

The department also needs a fire marshal and pre-fire plans as it tackles a growing business base, including multistory buildings. Some commercial structure fires require two engines and a ladder truck. There’s one engine responding now. Hooper said his department is looking for grant money and insurance reimbursement from wrecks to help provide for department needs.

“We know that we’re not a revenue-generating department,” Hooper said.

The town’s police department is responding to a significant increase in calls, many from wrecks or traffic issues. Chief Jeff Helms told Council at the workshop his department is out of office space and evidence storage.

Each department head was asked how they would respond to the growth. Engineering is working on water and sewer capacity along the Fort Mill Southern Bypass and elsewhere. Projections show wastewater needs could be six times what’s flowing and twice what the town is permitted to handle.

Public works is examining if contracting garbage and recycling to a private company makes sense. Council also discussed a need for a leaf disposal facility.

Parks and Recreation will ask the county to re-evaluate the $70,000 it provides the town. About 40 percent of participants in Fort Mill programs come from outside town limits. Councilman Nathan Blythe said at a recent workshop the county should consider if it’s paying an equitable share of the cost of allowing nontown residents to participate in town programs, such as youth sports. The parks department’s budget is $600,000 to $700,000 a year.

Council didn’t vote on any recommendations, either at the workshop Feb. 15 or its meeting last week.

By John Marks, Staff Reporter with the Fort Mill Times