Fort Mill residents vote on $190 million bond referendum

FORT MILL, SC (WBTV) - Voters in Fort Mill were given a choice, increase taxes and get three new schools and other upgrades, or do not raise taxes and risk running out of space for students.

Fort Mill has experienced tremendous growth in recent years and the school system is noticing.

"We are roughly looking at about 1,000 new students a year," Chief Communications Officer Joe Burke said.

The increase in enrollment has forced some Fort Mill Schools into an enrollment freeze. If a student registers past a certain deadline, they would be moved to a school that is not full yet.

The near capacity situation Fort Mill is facing is one reason why the school board has requested a $190 million bond referendum to pay for three new schools, two elementary and one middle, the purchase of new buses, technology and maintenance upgrades.

For many parents, the decision was an easy one.

"It's worth it, I mean we moved to Fort Mill for a reason. Yes it's extra money, but it's for a good cause," referendum supporter Sunni Baker said.

If passed, the average house of $250,000 would be paying roughly $140 more in taxes a year. The last bond referendum in Fort Mill was 2015, to pay for the Catawba Ridge High School. It's currently being built and some say that should be the last one for a while.

"I think the taxes in Fort Mill are already getting prohibitive, and it seems like we're getting a new school every six months," Mary Ann Ayala said. " I've studied in a trailer and I think that's okay until the funds are appropriated and we save enough to create new schools."

If the referendum is not approved, school officials say they would begin looking at other options to free up space.

"Whether it be looking at freezes, portable classrooms, class sizes," Burke said.

If approved, the two new elementary schools are expected to open in the 2020-2021 school year, the new middle school would open in 2021-2022. School leaders say the new schools would need to be built near the Dobys Bridge and Tega Cay areas, but exact sites would be chosen at a later date.

The referendum would also allow for the school district to purchase buses, to accommodate the influx of students. South Carolina provides school buses, but due to aging fleets and more students the district has decided to buy its own.

Technology and maintenance upgrades would also be included in the referendum.

Polls close at 7:00 p.m. Tuesday.

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