Incorporation of Skidaway Island – Just the FAQs
Below are some Frequently Asked Questions and their Answers, as a handy reference. Please note these are updated as we receive new questions and/or additional information.
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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 exactly is being done and considered?
A. The Board of The Landings Association secured placeholder legislation in the General Assembly in order to begin a process of robust community discussion and evaluation of the cost/benefit of incorporation of Skidaway Island as a municipality.
Q. What lands would the City of Skidaway Island include?
A. Per the draft 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. What are some reasons for considering incorporation?
A. Research of other incorporation initiatives throughout Georgia shows the reasons for pursuing incorporation vary but usually are sought for one or more of the following reasons:
1. To create representation that is proportionate to population;
2. To create a politically accountable governing body for a specific and limited geographic area;
3. To improve local public services;
4. To redirect existing revenues generated from the local residents to directly support local services;
5. To give a community local control over land use planning;
6. To pursue local policy goals more appropriate for the community;
7. To create or preserve local identity;
8. To prevent forced annexation by nearby municipalities, where Skidaway Island voters would be a small voting block; and
9. To address dissatisfaction with the current service from the county government in the Special Service District as expressed by many residents of Skidaway Island.
Q. Why are WE looking at incorporation?
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.”
Q. That’s from 2014 and 2015. What about today? Do we still need to review incorporation?
A. Yes. The same concerns identified in 2014 remain today. Under the current County decision-making structure, Skidaway Island interests are represented by only one of eight elected Commissioners. Our concerns in this regard were further exacerbated by our recent experiences with Tropical Storm Hermine and with Hurricane Matthew. The County did not enter the gates of The Landings to remove debris until six weeks had passed after Hurricane Matthew.
In addition, if Skidaway Island does not become a city by 2021, we would lose out on the full negotiations for Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) until 2031 and be subject to the formula negotiated by other cities and the County.
As well, the State Legislature plans a study in 2018 regarding consolidating the City of Savannah with all of unincorporated Chatham County, including The Landings. The State legislature determines and governs the process through the language in any bill it might adopt. Therefore, The Landings and all of Skidaway Island could be forcibly annexed into the City of Savannah/Chatham County, regardless of how the majority of Skidaway Island residents vote.
Q. What is the merger or consolidation of Chatham County and the City of Savannah about? Why would that affect The Landings?
A. It is a proposal being considered to consolidate the two separate jurisdictions into one metropolitan government. Since The Landings is part of unincorporated Chatham County, The Landings would be included in a new merged government even if we voted against it, if the majority of those affected voted in favor. As noted above, the State legislature determines and governs the process through the language in any bill it might adopt.
Q. What’s the status of the Chatham County/City of Savannah merger?
A. A study is planned for 2018, if funding is secured at the State level. This item is one of the Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce's priorities for the next legislative session: "Support efforts to obtain funding needed to study the feasibility of consolidating the City of Savannah and unincorporated Chatham Count."
Q. If the island community passes on the option to proceed with incorporation and the City of Savannah and Chatham County merge, would incorporation at a later date be possible?
A. No. If the island community passes on the option to incorporate and the City and County merge, it would be too late to incorporate. However, if the City of Skidaway incorporates and later decides to merge with another entity, that option would be available.
Q. Would there be any change to The Landings Association's Security, Public Works, etc.?
Q. Would The Landings' gates have to be removed?
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 $6.4 million and annual expenditures of approximately $4.6 million to $4.8 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 4 and 6 months each vetting and updating numbers.
Q. How comfortable are the Study Committees in their revenue and expenditure estimates for the proposed City of Skidaway Island?
A. The 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 expertise to help develop the expenditure estimates.
Q. Why would we, the residents, want to incorporate Skidaway Island?
A. Instead of paying Special Service District Taxes to Chatham County, residents of Skidaway Island instead would pay a property tax millage rate to the City of Skidaway Island to fund a government focused on the island and specific service needs. In addition, it would allow the residents of Skidaway Island to control items such as if and when to evacuate for a hurricane; determine such items as whether to install a roundabout at the four-way stop; make application as a City to FEMA for storm debris removal even in gated communities in the cases of health and safety issues (like following Hurricane Mathew with its massive debris); and regardless of the outcome of that application, begin cleanup following a storm throughout the City of Skidaway immediately, rather than waiting six weeks, as occurred post-Hurricane Matthew.
Q. If Skidaway Island does incorporate, how would my taxes change?
A. Below is a chart of the 2017 property taxes in mills paid by Unincorporated Chatham County residents, including those in The Landings.
Chatham County General Fund Maintenance and Operations
Special Services District
Chatham Area Transit
Savannah-Chatham Board of Education
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 yard debris fee would be removed, as the City of Skidaway Island millage would cover that service.
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 residents would continue to pay other Chatham County taxes, and the overall unincorporated Chatham County would remain quite sizeable. 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 LOST negotiations in 2021, Savannah may receive a slightly lower share of the LOST revenues.
Q. What governmental services are provided in the Special Services District?
A. The Special Services District covers such items as policing, maintenance of rights-of-way, yard debris pickup, roads and bridges, stormwater management, planning and zoning, Recorders Court, and general government. Those services would be assumed by the City of Skidaway Island, potentially through a contractual basis.
Q. Would my taxes increase?
A. The Incorporation Study Committees Report shows that taxes could be decreased from 4.990 mills to 4.130 mills.
Q. Could the City Council raise the millage rate in the future?
A. Yes. Georgia law will not allow such limits to be placed on the decision-making authority of local government officials.
Q. Would it be possible for residents instead of the City Council to have voting authority over whether to raise the millage?
A. No, this is not possible.
Q. How is that 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 next Local Option Sales Tax (LOST), public utility franchise fees, and other tax revenues generated from our community that now go to other governments. Those make up close to $4 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. Who would operate police services, fire services, court systems, etc.?
A. 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. A court would be established on island to hear cases involving City ordinances and traffic violations.
The fire services could be contracted with Chatham Emergency Services (formerly Southside Fire Department), as a pass-through on the tax collection bills 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. 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 Services District instead would be provided to and by the City of Skidaway Island.
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 existing homestead exemptions with your local property taxes.
Q. What is the cost of building infrastructure to support this new city?
A. Please see the Incorporation Study Committees Complete Report for details.
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. 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. If this option is chosen, it should not require a change in how The Village Library currently operates.
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. Would there be a jail on Skidaway Island?
Q. Do the city council members and mayor have to live on Skidaway Island to be elected?
A. Yes. Per the draft 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. How would the new City fund its startup efforts?
A. Per the draft Charter, the City of Skidaway Island would begin collecting taxes and fees at the start of the two-year phase-in period (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 in the Atlanta area issued 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 draft 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 might go away temporarily until the new city gets certified per FEMA’s program.
Q. Will the Steering Committee make a recommendation on if the community should proceed with an incorporation vote?
A. Yes. The Committee will make a recommendation after consulting with the other island entities.
Q. What are the next steps?
A. If this study and discussion continue to indicate that incorporation is in the best interest of Skidaway Island, the State Legislature would formally consider the bill in early 2018. If passed by the Legislature, all of the registered voters of Skidaway Island subsequently would vote on incorporation. Should a majority of those who vote approve incorporation, there would be a phase-in period that could last up to two years, making the City of Skidaway Island a reality sometime by July 2021.