Don’t let the dispute between the town and Fort Mill School District end up in court

November 18, 2013 

A dispute between the Fort Mill School District and the town of Fort Mill concerning which municipality should pay the cost of moving a water line from a new school site needs to be resolved soon.

One potentially ugly situation was quelled before it got out of hand, but we’re concerned that if the disagreement lingers, more than just money could be at stake. So far, the school district had to send its attorney to Town Hall to hand deliver a letter that raised the specter of “serious legal consequences” after the town refused to approve the site plan for the new Riverview Elementary School.

Fort Mill Town Manager Dennis Pieper said it was all just a big misunderstanding, but an email obtained by the Fort Mill Times through the Freedom of Information Act tells a different story. The email, sent by a town engineering department official to a school district consultant inquiring about site plan approval, made it clear that the plans were essentially being held hostage “pending resolution” of the water line issue.

Now that the town released the plans, school district officials seem willing to put that incident behind them. However, they also seem somewhat wary that tensions could flare until it is decided which entity is going to pay the estimated $80,000 to $100,000 cost of moving the line. The delay in site plan approval didn’t hold up any work on the new school, but School Board Chairman Patrick White was clear in stating that there’s little time “to waste” going forward and not getting the water line moved seems like a looming threat to keeping construction on-schedule.

Unless the two sides come to agreement soon, the question concerning paying to move the water line could end in court, as these things frequently are, and that’s to no one’s benefit. The billable hours the school district already racked up to get site plan approval for the new school is money that could have been spent in infinitely more productive ways. Certainly the town wants to avoid unnecessary legal costs.

We don’t see this as a complicated issue. The town should pay the cost of removing the water line. It was aware of the line’s existence – although under the mistaken impression that it wasn’t a live line with water flowing through it – when possession of the property transferred from the previous owner to the school district, and it’s a part of the town’s infrastructure.

At last summer’s annual State of the Community breakfast, Fort Mill Mayor Danny Funderburk talked about the importance of cooperation among all the local municipalities and how it’s to everyone’s mutual benefit when they all work together to manage growth. We agree. And there’s no better time than the present to demonstrate that spirit of cooperation.

Let’s none of us forget that with all of the town’s many charms, it’s the school system that has fueled growth and increased property values. It’s important for both sides to see the timely construction of the new Riverview Elementary School, and the town should admit it was wrong to hold up the plan approval. Even more important, it needs to immediately agree to pay the cost of moving that water line so any future construction delays can be avoided.

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