Incorporation of Skidaway Island – Just the FAQs
Below are Frequently Asked Questions and their Answers. This is a living document. Questions and answers are added and updated as new information becomes available.
If you’d like to see the latest FAQs in order with the most recent at the top, please click http://skidawaycitystudy.org/faq2.
For further questions or comments, please email email@example.com.
Q. What is incorporation?
A. Municipal incorporation is the process of forming a city from the unincorporated territory of a county. The process shifts some local government responsibilities for an unincorporated area under the jurisdiction of a county commission to a newly established city council.
Q. What is the Chatham County Special Service District?
A. The Special Service District is the part of Chatham County that is unincorporated (not in a city), including Skidaway Island. Chatham County provides certain services to all residents, including those who are in the unincorporated areas, as well as to those who live in one of the eight cities in the county, and provides certain additional services to residents in the unincorporated area. Services provided in the Special Service District (SSD) include governance, administration, planning and zoning, code enforcement, police, courts, and public works, such as rights-of-way maintenance, yard debris removal, roads and bridges, and storm water management. Property owners pay a millage rate of 4.99 to Chatham County for these SSD services.
Q. If Skidaway Island is incorporated, what would change for The Landings?
A. Should Skidaway Island incorporate, there would be no change to the functions, gates, governing structure, leadership, Assessment, Covenants, etc., of The Landings or the other private, on-island communities, such as South Harbor or Modena. Simply, the funding and services paid to and provided by the County’s Special Services District instead would be paid to and provided by the City of Skidaway Island.
Q. Would there be any change to The Landings Association's Security, Public Works, etc.?
Q. Would The Landings' gates be removed?
Q. What lands would the City of Skidaway Island include?
A. Per the Charter, the City would include all land once you cross the fixed bridge across the Skidaway Narrows onto Skidaway Island. This would include South Harbor, Modena, The Marshes, The Village, etc., but would not include Green Island.
Q. Would The Village be included in the incorporation?
A. Yes. Everything on Skidaway Island would become part of the City of Skidaway Island.
Q. Why are we looking at incorporation now?
A. Discussion dates back to at least the early 2000s. More recently, the current project began in earnest in 2014 during the update of our Landings Association Strategic Plan, presented in the 2015 Strategic Plan Town Hall Meeting. The rationale for exploring incorporation, excerpted from the 2015 Strategic Plan, follows:
“With the stated objective of Chatham County’s Commission Chair that all unincorporated Chatham County should be incorporated, and with the City/County conflict over the Metro Police Department, it is imperative that The Landings not remain on the sidelines but take an active role in shaping its future. A comprehensive study should be conducted to define and analyze all facets of incorporation, including a roadmap, to enable the Board to decide whether to proceed with community discussion of the desirability of incorporation.”
Incorporation is a lengthy process which takes a minimum of four years. In addition, the legislative rules continue to change regarding incorporation, including an attempt in 2018 by the state Senate to limit the total number of cities in Georgia. Most importantly, in order to participate fully in the next Local Option Sales Tax negotiations which provide a significant amount of funding for municipalities, a new city would need to be fully operational by no later than 2021.
Q. Have there been any efforts to limit the number of new cities in Georgia?
A. Yes. In 2018, the State Senate passed a bill (http://www.legis.ga.gov/Legislation/en-US/display/20172018/SB/453) by a vote of 46-7 to reduce the number of new municipalities. It did this by changing the minimum number of services required from three to five. It also put in a new requirement that a new city could not incorporate if it were within three miles of an existing municipality unless it had been denied annexation to the other municipality. It required that the new charter would have to be enacted within 12 months following the denial. And it required that the new municipality had to exceed the population of the existing municipality. Plus it required certification from a superior court judge. A floor amendment was added to grandfather in the cities that were currently pending, including Skidaway, by making the new bill effective Jan 1, 2019. Ultimately, the House did not approve the bill.
In addition, one of State Representative Ron Stephens' legislative priorities for the 2019 session, as reported by the Savannah Morning News, is as follows: "Place restrictions on local option sales tax revenue distributions to limit the proliferation of new municipalities".
Q. Why would we, the residents, want to create the City of Skidaway Island?
A. Some of the reasons identified include the following:
- Decrease tax and fee burden immediately
- Control future tax and fee increases and limit the size of government
- Improve service levels and responsiveness
- Gain a seat at the table for local, regional, and state issues
- Local control over Skidaway Island’s present and future, including building and zoning
- Respond immediately to storms and maximize direct FEMA relief funding
- Ensure Public Safety coverage meets the needs of Skidaway residents
- Gain the ability to vote as a municipality in the event of local government merger or consolidation
- Bring tax dollars back onto the island for local control
Q. Why would we, the residents, NOT want to create the City of Skidaway Island?
A. Some of the potential downsides raised include the following:
- City Council could still raise taxes, even with a millage rate cap in the Charter
- FEMA Flood Insurance discounts could be lost for 1-2 years
- Potential growth of government and bureaucracy
- Potential for unforeseen developments
- Could foster a perception of exclusivity
- Change of status quo
Q. I keep hearing about possible consolidation, merger, or annexation of Skidaway Island. What do those mean?
A. Consolidation, mergers, and/or annexations are various scenarios which have been publicly discussed in recent years by elected and appointed officials at all levels of our local government, including Chatham County, the City of Savannah, and the State Legislature. Most recently, there has been discussion regarding studying a merger between unincorporated Chatham County and the City of Savannah or the creation of a county-wide consolidated government.
Here are links to recent articles about this:
Here is a link to State Senator Lester Jackson at the capitol in 2018 talking about studying consolidation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=8&v=QACZjqoWSVI
Here is a link to State Representative Ron Stephens at the capitol in 2018 talking about studying consolidation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4pkMthNHvQ
Here is a link to a UGA article stating both Savannah Mayor Eddie Deloach and Chatham County Chairman Al Scott support studying a merger: https://cviog.uga.edu/news/112017-chatham.html
The Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce included studying merged/consolidated government as part of its 2018 Legislative Priorities: https://www.savannahchamber.com/images/userfiles/2018_ChamberofCommerce_LegislativeAgenda.pdf
The process of studying incorporation of Skidaway Island began long before these discussions. While they are not a primary reason for incorporation, they are relevant factors, particularly since state law can, and does, change each year. Each scenario would impact Skidaway Island differently. However, an incorporated City of Skidaway Island would have a stronger voice and independent vote than an unincorporated Skidaway. That is one reason the island communities in Chatham County (Wilmington, Whitemarsh, Oatland, and Talahi) are studying incorporation as well.
Based on current laws and knowledge, consider these scenarios below:
Consolidation - Consolidation usually entails the dissolution of all existing city and county governments and the creation of a single government to manage the entire county. The voters in the municipality/municipalities must approve the repeal of the existing municipal charter, and the new government must be approved by a majority of the voters voting throughout the territorial boundaries of the applicable county. If you are part of a municipality, you vote whether or not you want to repeal your city charter, and you also vote (with all of the residents of the county) whether or not you think the county and city should be consolidated. If you are not in a municipality, you vote only in the county-wide referendum as to whether or not you think the county and city/cities should be consolidated. Thus, in a city-county consolidation scenario, voters who are part of an existing municipality have more power to determine whether or not they would like to become part of the new government than voters in the unincorporated area.
Several other counties in Georgia have consolidated their local governments…Macon and Bibb County, Athens and Clarke County, Columbus and Muscogee County, and others. With eight existing municipalities in Chatham County, each with their own rich history and civic pride, such a scenario seems unlikely here.
Merger - Chatham County and Savannah could decide to merge their governments into one government while excluding the existing municipalities from some aspects of that merger. The process of setting up the merged government and the process of determining the property taxes would be determined by State Law and/or the State Legislature. The local delegation has discussed legislation to set up a study of that possibility, but it was not passed during the 2018 session. A newly created City of Skidaway Island likely would be able to opt in or out of such a merger scenario, while an unincorporated Skidaway Island may be in a position to get outvoted and thus included against their wishes.
Annexation - Annexation can be achieved by several different methods. Generally speaking, it is difficult for a city to annex an area that does not want to be annexed. However, related specifically to Skidaway Island, the concern is that an unincorporated Skidaway could be lumped in with other unincorporated areas and be targeted for annexation by another city, therefore diminishing the power of the voters on Skidaway Island. It all would depend on how the enabling legislation would be written for a vote and the size and population of the area subject to annexation. Under current state law, the City of Savannah cannot annex Skidaway Island without a vote of the registered voters on Skidaway island.
Q. How would a merger vote likely be structured, if such a vote were to occur in the future?
A. In the case of Macon-Bibb and Columbus-Muscogee, “double majority” votes were held, meaning city voters received two votes in the merger decision because they were permitted to vote in both elections, and county residents received one vote. The logic is that you get to vote where you pay taxes, so if you pay taxes in the city and the county, you get to vote twice, and if you live in the unincorporated county, then you vote once.
If a Savannah-Chatham merger referendum were structured in that way, then the City of Savannah (population 142,919) would have two votes compared to the residents of unincorporated Chatham (population 90,862) who would have one vote. Skidaway has a population of 8,042. Note: Only registered voters are allowed to vote.
Q. Now that the State Legislature has approved the vote and the Governor has signed the bill, when will the vote occur?
A. The vote will occur on March 19, 2019.
While it was originally anticipated that the referendum would be held on November 6, 2018, the Incorporation Steering Committee discovered a drafting error made by the state legislative counsel in the enabling legislation. As a result, the election was postponed until March 19, 2019 to allow the legislative delegation to further perfect the Charter.
A new bill was approved by the State House 164-1 and by the State Senate 43-4. This bill included several amendments, including adding a referendum before a tax increase. You can view the amendments here, and you can view a marked-up version of the original Act here to review changes.
Please click Special Election for Skidaway Island Incorporation for details on ways to vote.
Q. If a majority of those who vote agree to become a city, when would elections be held for the city council?
A. Per the legislation, the vote for city council would be June 18, 2019.
Q. When would we become a city?
A. The legislation calls for a phase-in period lasting up to two years so that the City of Skidaway Island could be fully operational by July 2021.
Q. How many city council members would there be?
A. Per the Charter, there would be six city council members and one mayor, all nonpartisan.
Q. Would there be districts?
A. No. The original draft charter included four districts and a mayor, for a total city council of five members. The passed legislation instead includes six city council members elected at large and one mayor, for a total city council of seven members. There is a residency requirement that at least one of the council members lives outside of The Landings, to ensure island-wide representation.
Q. Do the city council members and mayor have to live on Skidaway Island to be elected?
A. Yes. Per the Charter: “No person shall be eligible to serve as councilmember unless that person shall have been a resident of the city for 12 months prior to the date of his or her election; each shall continue to reside therein during that member’s period of service and to be registered and qualified to vote in municipal elections of this city.”
Q. What would be the name of this new city?
A. The new city officially would be known as the City of Skidaway Island, though like with the City of Tybee Island or the City of Savannah, many simply would refer to it as Skidaway or Skidaway Island.
Q. How would this name change affect our current mailing address?
A. Addresses are controlled by the U.S. Postal Service. However, we expect addresses to remain Savannah, Georgia 31411.
Q. With the new city, would there be reassessment of our property values, and would the Stephens-Day Homestead Exemption still apply?
A. Incorporation of the City of Skidaway Island would not impact existing homestead exemptions with your local property taxes. To learn more, please click Incorporation Clarifications.
Q. One potential option, as outlined in the Incorporation Report, that would help the City of Skidaway Island fulfill the requirements necessary to receive Local Option Sales Tax funds, is to provide operational support in the way of funding to The Village Library. Would this make The Village Library a Public Library?
A. The Village Library would not join the Live Oak Library System. However, currently, The Village Library is open to all Chatham County residents that purchase a membership.
Q. Would there be a jail on Skidaway Island?
A. No. Jail services would continue to be provided by Chatham County as part of its General Fund Maintenance & Operations budget.
Q. Are there any zoning mandates that could impact Skidaway Island?
A. No. There is a minimal level of zoning required by the State of Georgia. The City of Skidaway initially would adopt State and County zoning ordinances and then make modifications over time as needed.
Q. Isn’t Skidaway Island too small to be a city?
A. A new City of Skidaway Island would be the 5th largest municipality in Chatham County, based on 2016-17 census estimates.
Q. What governmental services are provided in the Special Services District?
A. The Special Services District is the part of Chatham County that is unincorporated (not in a city), including Skidaway Island. Services provided in the Special Services District (SSD) include governance, city administration, planning and zoning, code enforcement, police, municipal court, and public works. Those services would be assumed by the City of Skidaway Island, potentially through a contractual basis.
Q. What specific Public Works services would be provided by the new city?
A. Public works services to be provided by the City of Skidaway for roads and areas outside of the gated communities include:
- Grass cutting/Right-of-Way Maintenance
- Road Repair/Asphalt Overlays/Reconstruction
- Road Signage
- Road Striping/Traffic Markings
- Bulk Trash collection at curbside
- Yard Waste collection at curbside
- Routine road maintenance such as street sweeping, and pothole and incident pavement repair
- Storm water/Drainage maintenance for road swales and pipe culverts at road/drive crossings
A detailed explanation of each of the above can be found in the Public Works/Engineering Task Force Report. Note: there are four roads outside of the gated communities: McWhorter Drive, Green Island Road, State Park Road, and OSCA Road. (Diamond Causeway would remain a State road.)
Q. I know a contractor for Chatham County recently repaved much of McWhorter Drive, but what about repaving in the future for that and the three other city roads (Green Island Road, State Park Road, and OSCA Road)?
A. A City of Skidaway Island would be responsible for maintenance of the city roads, and that maintenance usually comes from the general fund of the city. However, a City of Skidaway would also have the opportunity to negotiate to include those road projects in future Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) votes. This one cent sales tax is voted on every 5-7 years by residents countywide and funds infrastructure projects. Please note, SPLOST revenues have not been included in budget estimates for a City of Skidaway Island.
Per O.C.G.A. 48-8-121 (https://law.justia.com/codes/georgia/2010/title-48/chapter-8/article-3/part-1/48-8-121/), local governments can use SPLOST funds for “renovation and improvement of roads, streets, bridges, sidewalks, and bicycle paths, including resurfacing”. You can read more details about allowed SPLOST projects here - https://www.accg.org/library/legal/SPLOST%202016.pdf.
In fact, Chatham County is using SPLOST funds for the “resurfacing of various County roads” in the unincorporated areas of the County. For example, as noted in the February 9, 2018 Chatham County Commission Agenda (see page 7, item B) and the February 9, 2018 Chatham County Commission meeting minutes (see pages 21-22), the County awarded an $846,368 construction contract for the resurfacing of various County roads in the unincorporated areas.
Q. Who would operate police services, fire services, court systems, etc.?
A. The city council ultimately would make these decisions. However, the Police-Court Study Committee costed out setting up a new City of Skidaway Island Police Department, though that service may be contracted out to the reestablished Chatham County Police Department, which has proven receptive to that possibility in preliminary discussions. A court would be established on island to hear cases involving City ordinances and traffic violations. Felonies or more serious offenses would continue to be serviced by the County courts.
The fire services could be contracted with Chatham Emergency Services (formerly Southside Fire Department), and billed by the City, in lieu of separate subscription billings, as currently exists.
The water systems on Skidaway are owned by private companies, and that would remain unchanged. Residents could continue to contract with the trash provider of their choosing. However, a City potentially could pursue a citywide contract that resulted in better pricing, a recycling option, and an organized delivery schedule that result in fewer trucks on the roads.
Q. I read an article in the Savannah Morning News about fire service cost under incorporation recently. What does this mean for Skidaway Island if we incorporate as a city?
A. The article was referring to the Islands communities (Wilmington, Whitemarsh, Oatland, and Talahi) and not Skidaway Island. The Skidaway Island Incorporation Steering Committee did not propose any changes to fire service delivery.
REVENUES AND EXPENDITURES
Q. Have you completed a Financial Feasibility Study?
A. Yes. As required by the State Legislature, The Landings Association contracted with one of the two institutions that can perform such a study. Last year, the Andrew Young School of Government at Georgia State University completed the study and reported: “Based on this analysis, the city of Skidaway Island should expect annual revenue of approximately $8.4 million and annual expenditures of approximately $7.0 million to $7.2 million. Based on these estimates and given the assumptions that are detailed in this report, we find that the proposed city of Skidaway Island is financially feasible.” You can read the complete report by clicking Incorporation Feasibility Study.
In addition, the five Study Committees spent between four and six months each vetting and updating numbers. The Committees all affirmed that a new City of Skidaway Island could provide the same or better services for fewer tax dollars.
Q. Did you pay for a separate study from the Carl Vinson Institute at the University of Georgia?
A. No. Only one study was needed to meet State requirements.
Q. If Skidaway Island becomes a city, would it be entirely dependent on property taxes?
A. No. There are a number of revenues that currently are collected but sent off island. Becoming a city and eligible for those revenues decreases the property tax burden on residents. Specific revenues that will be available to the City of Skidaway Island include the following:
- LOST (Local Option Sales Tax)
- Franchise Fees
- Insurance Fees
- Building/Development and Zoning Fees
- Mixed Drink Taxes
- Other revenues
Q. What are the major projected Revenues and Expenditures for a City of Skidaway Island, per the Feasibility Study and the five Study Committees?
A. Those items continue to be refined in advance of the vote. A recent legal opinion from the law firm Oliver Maner provides direction on updated estimates for Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) revenue until a renegotiated agreement would go into effect in January 2023, as well as after that time. Other line items continue to be reviewed as well.
For budgeting purposes, the following were assumed:
- It would take six months for notifications and phase-in for LOST revenues.
- LOST revenues would be higher until 2023, as they would be based on 2010 populations, per the funding formula. LOST revenues would decrease slightly in 2023, due to the lower relative expected population of Skidaway Island vs. cities like Pooler at that time.
- The property tax digest would increase 2%/year.
- All other revenues would remain flat.
- Inflation of 3%/year is factored in for all expenditures, other than the pass-through expense of fire protection.
- A loan could be utilized to fund startup costs.
The charts below show Years 1 and 5 for Cash Inflows and Outflows, as well as potential Reserves Balance by year. Please note, each year has approximately a $1 million Contingency line item for unexpected expenses.
To view all five years, please click Incorporation Town Hall Meetings PowerPoint Fall 2018.
Q. Can you please describe the revenue sources in more detail?
A. It is a common misperception that the City of Skidaway Island would receive all of its funding from traditional property taxes. The reality is that there are a number of revenue sources that currently go to other governmental entities which, following incorporation, would go to the City of Skidaway Island and significantly decrease the reliance on property taxes for municipal revenue. Essentially, it is capturing the tax revenue and fees which local residents and businesses already pay and bringing them back to Skidaway Island. This will enable residents to have more local say in how those revenues are used to meet the needs of our community and to control government spending in order to avoid future tax increases. It is also a way to benefit from taxes that are paid by buyers from outside of Chatham County.
In addition to Real Property Tax revenue which includes residential, commercial, industrial, and agricultural and conservation properties, the City of Skidaway Island would also receive:
- Utility Property Taxes
- Personal Property Taxes
- Mobile Home Property Taxes
- Motor Vehicle Property Taxes
- Intangible Property Taxes – real estate transfer tax, and tax on the value of real estate mortgages
Franchise Fees - Collected from cable operators, natural gas providers, electricity companies, and telephone companies and paid to counties and municipalities for the use of the right-of-way and related costs.
Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) - Buyers from outside of Chatham County pay ~38% of the sales tax collected locally. One penny of the sales tax is known as LOST. The Georgia Department of Revenue would distribute the funding directly to the City of Skidaway Island using a formula which is based partially on a per capita basis as well as on terms agreed upon during the local LOST negotiations that occur every 10 years among the cities and county. Skidaway Island would need to be incorporated as a city by 2021-22 to participate in the next LOST negotiations.
Life, Property, and Casualty Insurance Premium Taxes - The revenue collected in the county is required by law to be allocated on a per capita basis.
Mixed Drink Tax and Alcohol Excise Tax
Business License Revenue
Bank Share Tax - Imposed on the gross receipts of banks, include savings and loan offices.
Building, Development and Zoning Fees - From registration permits and inspection fees associated with construction and renovations, including installation of plumbing, electrical, and HVAC systems. This also includes sign permits, zoning and variance permits, and certificates of occupancy.
Municipal Court - Traffic fines and violation of municipal ordinances.
Fire Protection - The City could contract with Chatham Emergency Services (CES) and bill residents, in place of the current billing system of CES, at no increase in cost to residents.
Other municipal revenue sources that are not applicable to the proposed City of Skidaway Island at this time include: Qualifying Fees, Investment Income, Hotel/Motel Taxes, and Storm Water Fees.
Q. How comfortable are the Study Committees in their revenue and expenditure estimates for the proposed City of Skidaway Island?
A. The five Study Committees are comfortable with the revenue and expenditure estimates. The group reviewed the budgets of five similar-sized cities within the state of Georgia as well as the budgets of some local cities. Additionally, each Study Committee member used his or her subject matter expertise to help develop the revenue and expenditure estimates. As noted above, though, estimates will continue to be refined until the vote.
Q. Could you provide the backgrounds of the volunteers who studied Incorporation and completed reports?
A. You can read summaries of the backgrounds of each volunteer by clicking Incorporation Committees Member Directory.
Q. If Skidaway Island does incorporate, how would my taxes change?
A. Your taxes would immediately decrease, and your County yard debris fee would be eliminated. (The new city would cover that service and monthly bulk trash pickup via the millage rate and other revenues vs. a separate charge to each homeowner.) Below is a chart of the 2018 property taxes in mills paid by Unincorporated Chatham County residents, including those in The Landings.
No City of Skidaway Island:
Chatham County General Fund Maintenance and Operations
City of Skidaway Island
Yard Debris Fee
Chatham Area Transit
Savannah-Chatham Board of Education
36.564 mills +$85 Yard Debris Fee
Were Skidaway Island to become its own city, the 4.990 mills collected by Chatham County for the Special Services District no longer would be collected from residents of Skidaway Island. Instead, the City of Skidaway Island would set a new property tax millage rate, initially at 4.130 mills. In addition, the separate yard debris fee would be removed, as the City of Skidaway Island millage and other revenues would cover that service.
City of Skidaway Island:
Chatham County General Fund Maintenance and Operations
City of Skidaway Island
Yard Debris Fee
Chatham Area Transit
Savannah-Chatham Board of Education
Please note, there would be no impact on the Savannah-Chatham Board of Education and public schools, as that millage rate would be unaffected. That millage rate is set annually by the Savannah-Chatham Public School System Board. Nor would there be an impact on the overall Chatham County General Fund or Chatham Area Transit.
Q. Could the City Council of Skidaway Island raise the millage rate in the future?
A. Yes. Under the powers of home rule, a city council has to authority to increase or remove a millage cap. Even with the ad valorem cap included in a City Charter, the city council retains the ability to adjust or eliminate it without voter approval.
Per a recent report (http://www.senate.ga.gov/sro/Documents/StudyCommRpts/2015AnnexationStudyCommitteeFINAL.pdf), “Citing the same Attorney General opinion, he (Jeff Lanier Deputy Legislative Counsel of the Office of Legislative Counsel) indicated that the limitations of home rule found in O.C.G.A. 36-35-6 do not preclude a city council from altering or even removing a millage cap through home rule powers.”
Q. I’m concerned the City of Skidaway Island would grow and increase its millage rate. How have the other new cities in Georgia handled their millage rates since they’ve been created?
A. Of the 10 new cities in Georgia that have been created since 2005, three have decreased their millage rate, six have maintained the same millage rate, and only one has raised its millage rate.
Q. How is the projected surplus achieved with the 4.130 mills that now go to the Special Services District?
A. Besides that millage rate, the City of Skidaway Island also would receive a portion of the Local Option Sales Tax (LOST), public utility franchise fees (electricity, cable, natural gas, telephone), and other tax revenues generated from our community that now go to other governments. Those make up more than $3 million of the total expected revenues. The Study Committees used higher estimates for expenses and lower estimates for revenues, though these are just estimates at this point.
Q. Why was 4.130 mills selected for the City of Skidaway Island millage rate?
A. When the Incorporation Feasibility Study was first completed by the Andrew Young School of Government, 4.130 mills was the Special Service District (SSD) millage rate. When the five Incorporation Study Committees began their review work, the millage rate was still 4.130.
Later in 2017, Chatham County raised the SSD millage tax rate to 4.99, where it remains.
The feasibility study concluded that the previous tax rate and other revenue sources would adequately fund a new City of Skidaway and would provide a surplus from which to build a contingency fund. The Study Committees validated that finding. Therefore, the legislation drafted by State Representative Jesse Petrea and State Senator Ben Watson included the lower millage rate in order to create an immediate property tax reduction for the property owners of Skidaway Island.
Q. How do Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) negotiations work?
A. Until the next Census is completed, the new City of Skidaway Island would be entitled to a portion of Chatham County’s LOST revenue on a per capita basis. Then, in 2021 and 2022, the cities and Chatham County would negotiate revenue distributions for the next 10 years, beginning in January 2023. It is envisioned that Skidaway Island’s City Council would hire a negotiator for this process, as is common practice.
Q. What is the cost of providing infrastructure to support this new city?
A. Please see the Incorporation Study Committees Complete Report for details.
Q. How would the new City fund its startup efforts?
A. Per the Charter, the City of Skidaway Island would begin collecting taxes and fees at the start of the phase-in period, as early as July 1, 2019. The County would continue providing services at actual cost until the City of Skidaway Island is ready to assume the services. During this transition period, many of the new cities issued short-term Tax Anticipation Notes (TAN) to help with initial costs. A TAN is short-term debt security issued by a state or local government to finance an immediate project that will be repaid with future tax collections. The government then uses the following year's tax revenue to repay the TANs. Per the Charter, the City of Skidaway Island also could issue bonds and take out short-term loans.
Q. In the presentation, you talked about the potential short-term loss of the flood insurance discount that some residents receive. Would we still be able to purchase flood insurance during that time?
A. Yes. Federally subsidized flood insurance via FEMA would still be available, but the sliding scale discount that is available to some Skidaway Island residents might go away temporarily until the new city gets certified per FEMA’s program. Efforts are already underway to address this potential problem.
The Landings Association has retained Ecological Planning Group to assist in this effort and minimize any potential disruption of the discount available to some homeowners. Please note that, regardless, flood insurance rates decreased for many Skidaway Island residents in August when new, more favorable flood maps were approved. Please see more details from Ecological Planning Group below:
It is important to note that no one is going to become ineligible to purchase flood insurance because a new city is created. There is a one-year grace period, beginning on the day of incorporation, before there are any changes to the city's status in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). When FEMA provides a non-participating community with a Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) delineating its flood-prone areas, the community is allowed one-year in which to join the NFIP. Discussions are already underway with FEMA and Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
Secondly, the maps recently have been updated by FEMA, and as a result, some property owners on Skidaway Island will benefit. Many properties are now mapped in a lower-risk floodplain (e.g., they are now located in the X Zone as opposed to the AE/VE Zone or 100-year floodplain). For most properties still located within a high-risk flood zone (AE/VE), their Base Flood Elevation (BFE) will be lower (i.e., their lowest finished floor will now be well above the legal requirement). As a result of these changes, many property owners will see a decrease in their flood insurance costs, regardless of what happens with incorporation or discounts.
Now let’s quantify the potential problem with flood insurance. Most residents of Skidaway Island are eligible for a discount on their flood insurance premium through the Community Rating System (CRS) program. The current discount can result in a reduction of 10-25% of their flood insurance premium, depending in which floodplain a particular property is located.
Based on information provided by FEMA, the average annual flood insurance premium within the 31411 zip code is approximately $670, meaning that the average homeowner who purchases flood insurance currently receives a CRS discount of between $67 and $167.50. It is expected that the future City of Skidaway would receive its new CRS rating from ISO within one year of incorporation, so that any potential loss of discounts would be temporary.
Q: How could the City of Skidaway Island protect itself from paying a large verdict if someone were injured on city property?
A: The legal doctrines of Sovereign and Official Immunity would provide much protection to the City of Skidaway Island. The City Council could purchase liability insurance to indemnify itself in light of a claim that survived those legal doctrines. In other words, the insurance would pay towards any verdict issued. The amount of insurance the Council would purchase would be a decision for the Council.
Q. What has been spent to date on this Incorporation study?
A. The final total spent is $186,800, as shown on the following chart. No additional funds will be spent in 2019 on the effort to hold the Incorporation vote in 2019. It has been posted on a local social media site that TLA has committed to spend up to $500,000 on the issue of Incorporation. This is simply an unfounded rumor that is inaccurate.
Some of the cost for Ecological Planning Group would have been incurred anyway, as part of The Landings Association’s TLA Strategic Plan item to “explore disaster mitigation to protect Landings common property areas from potential natural disasters and rising sea levels”.
Notice and opportunity for input from the community regarding this spending:
1. TLA lists costs such as these in the Board Briefs on page 4 of each month’s Landings Journal, with examples below.
- To mitigate any potential short-term loss of flood insurance discount, TLA engaged Ecological Planning Group. From May 2018 Landings Journal: “The Board approved a contract with Ecological Planning Group to provide Phase I - NFIP Compliance assistance in the Community Rating System at a project cost of $14,800. Note: This contract also included the creation of a website showing before and after flood maps for Landings residents, as well as the well-attended Open House on August 7, 2018 to explain the changes.
- From February 2017 Landings Journal: “Approved the proposal from Hughes Public Affairs in the amount of $55,000.” And from the President’s column on that same page: “Former TLA Board President Rex Templeton, Jr., who now serves as an Ex-Officio Board member, has agreed to coordinate these efforts for the Board. The Association also has engaged Hughes Public Affairs to guide us through this process.” We continued their contract in 2018 to see us through the vote.
- From September 2016 Landings Journal: “Approved the proposal from Andrew Young School of Government to perform an Incorporation Study in the amount of $30,000.”
The information above is all online for reference. All Landings Journals are at www.landings.org/landings-journals.
2. Input from the community - There were five town hall meetings hosted at the end of 2017, as described on pages 16-17 (centerspread) of the January 2018 Landings Journal, specifically the opening paragraph: “The five Incorporation Town Hall meetings hosted recently by The Landings Association were well-attended, with a cumulative total of more than 1,000 attendees. At each of the five sessions, nearly everyone in attendance raised their hands when asked if they would like the opportunity to vote on incorporation in November 2018.”
- Based on the majority of meeting attendees wanting to vote on Incorporation, it then required TLA spending money on a lobbying firm to help shepherd the legislation.
3. There is a publicly stated Strategic Plan for the TLA. This is not created by one person or a select few, but by significant work by the elected TLA Board and input from various committees. Many of the meetings are open to the public and also open to resident participation by volunteering to serve on a committee and/or run for an elected position.
- Incorporation was added to the Strategic Plan as an area of interest in 2014-15. That Strategic Plan was discussed at a May 2015 Town Hall Meeting and reported in the June 2015 Landings Journal: “This work will include an updated review of the potential for incorporation of Skidaway Island. Residents will be informed and consulted along the way of our progress.”
|2016||Andrew Young Feasibility Study||$30,000||$6.79|
|2017||Legislative Advocacy and Consulting||$55,000||$12.44|
|2018||Legislative Advocacy and Consulting||$75,000||$16.97|
|2018||Flood Insurance Review||$14,800||$3.35|
|2018||Oliver Maner Legal Reviews||$12,000||$2.71|
|2019||No Additional Funds Will Be Spent||$0||$0|
Q: What happens if a major storm like Hurricane Matthew hits the island again? Or even a bigger storm? Couldn’t that bankrupt the City of Skidaway Island?
A: When Hurricane Matthew hit Skidaway Island in 2016, Chatham County waited six weeks to begin cleanup in gated communities because the County did not have the proper ordinance in place to respond and officials were concerned they would not be reimbursed by FEMA for the debris removal. Since the delayed response by the County created numerous health and safety issues, The Landings Association spent close to $2 million to remove the debris, taking on the role that the County should have performed. Neither the County nor FEMA reimbursed TLA for this expense.
In the event of a future storm similar to Hurricane Matthew, a City of Skidaway Island would have the necessary agreements and ordinances to immediately begin storm debris removal and protect the health, safety, and property values of Skidaway Island residents. Additionally, a City of Skidaway Island would be eligible for FEMA and GEMA reimbursement of approved debris removal costs. This potentially would save Landings owners millions of dollars. In fact, the City would be eligible for up to 85% reimbursement from FEMA (vs. the standard 75%) depending on the speed of debris removal and would be eligible for a minimum 10% reimbursement by GEMA. The City still would have to follow all FEMA and GEMA guidelines to be eligible, such as having monitors who verify where debris is picked up and where it is deposited. Additionally, the City could work with GEMA to apply for Immediate Needs Funding in order to receive expedited funding.
Concerning bankrupting the city, the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act authorizes the President to provide Federal assistance when the magnitude of an incident or threatened incident exceeds the affected local government capabilities to respond or recover.
Financial projections for a City of Skidaway Island anticipate a reserve fund of between $6 million and $11 million after five years. If those funds were not enough to cover the immediate cleanup needs from a severe storm, the City would have the ability to take out short-term loans until the reimbursement was received from FEMA and GEMA.
For more information regarding FEMA and GEMA disaster recovery support, please see:
Q. Why do you think a City of Skidaway Island could handle debris removal in a more timely fashion than Chatham County after a major storm?
A. A City of Skidaway Island could choose to enter gated communities immediately after a storm to begin debris removal, rather than awaiting a decision on whether FEMA would reimburse the City for its costs. That did not occur after 2016’s Hurricane Matthew, when Chatham County did not begin debris removal in The Landings for six weeks following the storm. The delay in the County's response required The Landings to contract for debris removal at a cost of close to $2 million in order to address the health and safety hazards that existed for the residents.
FEMA does not reimburse private communities, so The Landings Association's Board made the difficult, but necessary, decision to ask residents pay an additional $400 Special Assessment to assist with the cost of debris removal, even though this was a service that was supposed to have been provided by the County. Residents approved this one-time Special Assessment in December 2016, with an 87% approval.
For a refresher, below are numerous reports regarding Chatham County’s delayed response following Hurricane Matthew in 2016, as well as reporting that Chatham County did not have the proper ordinance in place to be eligible for FEMA reimbursement for the debris removal (unlike the island of Hilton Head, which is also a city).
In addition, Chatham County had a delayed response to debris removal following 2016’s Tropical Storm Hermine, which also spawned a tornado in The Landings. Much of that debris remained when Hurricane Matthew hit.
Q. What about evacuations in advance of such a storm?
A. As residents will recall and as reported in the links below, there was much confusion created by the evacuation orders issued by Chatham County prior to Hurricane Matthew. The initial call to evacuate was for Tybee, Wilmington, and Whitemarsh islands and “low-lying areas east of the Wilmington River.” Skidaway Island and the other low-lying island communities were not specifically named in the voluntary evacuation recommendation. The Landings Association had to continue contacting Chatham Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) and County officials to determine if Skidaway Island should evacuate. Becoming a municipal jurisdiction would enable the elected and appointed leaders of the City of Skidaway island to work directly with CEMA and state officials to make localized decisions specific to our community.
Similarly, there was significant ambiguity concerning the reentry clearance to allow residents back in following Hurricane Matthew. A City of Skidaway Island could also have contracts in place that would allow for a faster assessment and addressing of safety hazards following a storm in order for residents to attend to their property as soon as it is safe to do so. Additionally, it could improve the flow of credible information to citizens in coordination with emergency management officials and reduce confusion and anxiety for Skidaway Island residents.
IMPACT ON CHATHAM COUNTY AND CITY OF SAVANNAH
Q. A recent article on Bloomberg (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-06-21/stockbridge-georgia-a-wealthy-neighborhood-fights-to-break-away) discusses how a potential new city in the Atlanta area could hurt a city it is breaking away from. Is that the same case with the City of Skidaway Island?
A. No. If created, the City of Skidaway Island would continue to be a part of Chatham County, and residents would continue to pay most of the same taxes to the county, as do all County residents. The exception is the tax levied on the unincorporated part of the county (Special Service District) that was recently raised to 4.99 mills. Residents of the City of Skidaway Island would no longer owe that tax to Chatham County. (Note: The Special Services District does not fund debt service.)
In addition, residents of Skidaway Island do not pay property taxes to the City of Savannah.
The city in Georgia that is voting on de-annexing from another city is a totally different situation than the incorporation of the City of Skidaway Island.
Q. What is the impact on Chatham County if the City of Skidaway island incorporates?
A. Overall, the budget impact to Chatham County would be minimal, as Skidaway Island property owners would continue to pay other taxes to Chatham County, including Maintenance and Operations taxes, which are currently set at 11.543 mills. Additionally, the overall unincorporated Chatham County would remain quite sizable. Study Committee members and others have met with various County officials throughout this process, and none of those officials have expressed concerns about the potential incorporation.
Q. Would there be any impact to the City of Savannah?
A. Residents of Skidaway Island do not pay City of Savannah property taxes. Depending on Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) negotiations in 2021-22, Savannah may receive a slightly lower share of the LOST revenues beginning in 2023 since a portion of the LOST sales tax revenues would go to the new City of Skidaway Island based partially on a per-capita share formula, among other considerations.
Q. Would there be any impact to the public school system?
A. No. Residents would continue to pay separate taxes to the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System, just as they currently do.
Q. Where can I see more supporting information?
A. Go to www.landings.org/incorporation.