Incorporation Town Halls Recap

By Lynn Lewis - lynnl@landings.org
Communications Manager

The Landings Association hosted two standing-room only Incorporation Town Hall Meetings on February 27 in Plantation’s Ballroom, with more than 700 attendees.

The purpose of the meetings was to provide information regarding the Association Board’s decision to have placeholder legislation submitted to the Georgia General Assembly to begin the process of evaluating the incorporation of Skidaway Island as a city.

Landings Association President Jim Rich welcomed everyone to the meetings, which included homeowners of The Landings, South Harbor, Modena, and The Marshes of Skidaway.

Before beginning the community discussion, Rich told the group he wanted them to remember the following key points:

  • Community leaders are exploring the feasibility of incorporating all of Skidaway Island as a city.
  • The reason this is being done is to protect residents’ right to choose how they are governed in the future.
  • Nothing is finalized. Island-wide residents will need to help with review, discussion, and feedback.

Rich also emphasized that if Skidaway Island becomes a city, there would be no change to the school system; no changes to homestead exemptions; no change to The Landings, South Harbor, Modena, or The Marshes; and that the respective HOAs would still provide security, gate access, public works, etc. as they do today.

Rich added that in 2014 The Landings Association’s Board began discussing incorporation as part of the community’s Strategic Plan. Now with the possible merger of unincorporated Chatham County into the city of Savannah, and the uncertainty of what that marriage would look like in terms of governing structure and services, the time now is right to explore further the benefits of incorporation.

In 2016, The Landings Association contracted with Andrew Young School at Georgia State University to conduct an Incorporation Feasibility Study. After completing this study, Georgia State University reported that its research determined the proposed city of Skidaway Island is financially feasible. You can read the complete report by clicking Incorporation Feasibility Study. If Skidaway Island becomes a city, it would be the fourth largest in Chatham County, behind Savannah, Pooler, and Garden City.

Once the financial feasibility of incorporation was confirmed, The Landings Association decided to continue exploring how a new city might work. The Association’s Board and key staff then met with State Representative Jesse Petrea, State Senator Ben Watson, Chatham County leaders, and representatives from South Harbor, Modena, and The Marshes of Skidaway to share what they had learned and gather input. The Landings Association has helped draft a City Charter as required by State legislature. This draft charter is based on a state model, and is under revision by the State Legislative Counsel, Representative Petrea, and Senator Watson, and is merely placeholder legislation. It is up to the island-wide community (inclusive of all residents, not just those of The Landings) as to what will be included in the final charter. To help navigate the legislative process, the Association hired Hughes Public Affairs.

So what would change if Skidaway Island incorporates? The key change would be that the services currently funded by Chatham County’s Special Service District tax would become the responsibility of the city of Skidaway Island. These services include police and court, rights-of-way maintenance, yard debris removal and bulk pickup, stormwater management, planning and zoning, and general governmental services. The 4.130 tax millage rate for these services would go to the city of Skidaway Island instead of Chatham County.

The City also would receive the existing utility services franchise fees that currently go to other governments and would be in line for a share of the Local Option Sales Tax. Combined, these sources total an estimated $6.4 million dollars in annual revenue.

“These are not new taxes,” Rich said. “Rather, they’d be collected by the city of Skidaway Island instead of other entities. Also, the Local Options Sales Tax, which offsets property taxes, would provide a strong revenue stream.”

As with any city, there would be expenses for items such as police and courts, administration, public works, planning and zoning, and contingency. Based on the Incorporation Feasibility Study, the estimated expenditures for the City of Skidaway Island might be between $4.6 and $4.8 million, leaving an annual surplus of $1.6-1.8 million.

Rich noted that even with the above, there still is much work to be done. The timeline for the process calls for legislation to be introduced this March, including the draft City Charter. The next few months would include island-wide discussions on governance structure and service levels and ultimately deciding whether to proceed with the incorporation effort. Legislative hearings would be held this summer and fall. The City Charter would be finalized this December.

If all remains on track, State Legislation could be approved the first quarter of 2018, followed by the Governor signing the bill for the City of Skidaway Island in April 2018. In May 2018 as part of the general primary elections, there would be an island-wide vote regarding the incorporation of Skidaway Island. If the vote passes, there would be a nonpartisan election for Mayor and City Council in November 2018, and the full transition to the city of Skidaway Island could be completed by January 2021. This would allow the City of Skidaway Island to participate in the next Local Option Sales Tax negotiations in 2022.

Incorporation Coordinator and Ex-Officio of The Landings Association’s Board Rex Templeton, Jr. will take the lead in forming committees for The Landings to study this issue, as well as to bring the island-wide communities together. If you would like to be considered for one of these study committees, please click skidawaycitystudy.org/content/volunteer.

To view the PowerPoint from the Town Hall Meeting as well as other information, please click www.landings.org/incorporation.

 

 

Following are highlights of the questions-and-answers from the meetings:

Q. What would be the name of this proposed, new city?

A. The new city would be known as the City of 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 any existing homestead exemptions with your local property taxes. Our legislators are working to draft legislative language which will protect and incorporate these exemptions into the new municipal Charter, particularly the Ad Valorem Tax valuation freeze known as Stephens-Day. While the exact mechanics of the legislation are not yet known, safeguarding this important protection against creeping property tax increases will remain a priority for the Incorporation Study Committee as well as our legislators.

Q. How would police and fire protection be handled with this new city?

A. Anything considered to be a service will be thoroughly evaluated by the Incorporation Study Committees. Police could be contracted with the Savannah-Chatham Metro Police Department or maybe with the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office, or some other model may prove the best. Similarly, fire protection could continue as is, or another option may present itself in the course of due diligence.

Q. What is the cost of building infrastructure to support this new city?

A. Preliminary studies indicate no facilities would need to be built, as there most likely would be limited staff for the City of Skidaway Island.

Q. If Skidaway Island is incorporated, what would change for The Landings?

A. Should Skidaway Island become incorporated, 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 provided to and by the County’s Special Service District instead would be provided by the City of Skidaway Island.

Q. Could Skidaway Island be merged into a consolidated City of Savannah/Chatham County government even if we, the residents of Skidaway, vote against that?

A. Yes. The State Legislature is now studying what a merger might entail, and as we have more details, we will provide them. That study has just begun.