Landings Annual Legislative Roundtable Recap

By Lynn Lewis - lynnl@landings.org
Communications Manager

The Landings Association hosted its annual Landings Roundtable with elected and appointed officials on November 7. This meeting is organized by The Landings Association each fall to provide a forum for obtaining information, seeking support, or making requests on various issues impacting our community. Additionally, this meeting brings all the various parties together into one room at the same time, so everyone can state their issues and openly discuss them in a positive and respectful way. The agenda, developed by the Association, included a range of topics, as described below.

Chatham County Areas of Interest

Landings Association President Rick Cunningham opened the meeting by asking the assembled group to introduce themselves. In attendance were U.S. Representative District 1 Buddy Carter; State Senator Ben Watson; County Commissioner District 4 Pat Farrell; County Commission Chair Al Scott; County Commissioner District 1 Helen Stone; Andrew Blascovich from Senator Johnny Isakson’s office; Metropolitan Planning Commission Executive Director Melanie Wilson; County Manager Lee Smith; County Engineer Leon Davenport; County Public Works Director Robert Drewry; Chatham Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) Director Dennis Jones; and Chatham County Police Chief Jeff Hadley. Also in attendance were several Landings Association Board Directors, Landings Association General Manager/COO Shari Haldeman, and staff.

Police Department officials kicked off the meeting by giving a Crime Report for The Landings. Overall, The Landings remains one of the safest areas in Chatham County, and Chief Hadley said he and his team plan to do all they can to keep it that way.

“We are proud of the work we have done as an organization to get ourselves up and adequately staffed,” he said. “With our extended offers, we have only five vacancies. I believe that says a lot about the County as a whole, as we have received much support to set pay scales and benefits that are competitive. We continue to build our department around the three core areas of community engagement, relationship building, and service.”

According to Senior Crime Analyst Brian Renner who reviewed the highlights of the crime report, since January 1, 2018, there have been 30 incidents involving police in The Landings. This number includes five auto-related thefts, seven burglaries, three thefts from yards, and 15 thefts from buildings.

Brenner added there are a few things residents can do to ensure they don’t fall victim to theft, including securing their homes and vehicles and being aware of who they allow onto their property and into their homes.

“The typical hours for auto-related thefts to occur is from midnight to 4:30 a.m.,” he said. “However, burglaries typically happen during the day when you are away from home, while theft from buildings usually involves someone with access to your home to include hired help.”

After the crime report, County Manager Lee Smith and CEMA Director Dennis Jones gave an update on the new 911 Dispatch Center. With this new Center, the 911 responsibilities will move from police-managed 911 operations to one that is civilian-managed. The facility will serve all the municipalities in Chatham County, including Tybee Island.

“Having an autonomous 911 Dispatch Center run by civilians rather than police is pretty much the industry standard worldwide,” Smith said.

The new Dispatch Center’s main campus will be located at the Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport, with a backup location at the Savannah Civic Center. At the time of the Roundtable Meeting, several design teams had been engaged regarding the facility. Additionally, a 13-member Executive Advisory Board has been meeting since June establishing a structure for the Center, writing bylaws, and organizing subcommittees to address various facets of the organization. If all goes as planned, the Center could open as early as 2021.

The discussion shifted to improvements slated by the County for McWhorter Drive and Green Island Road. According to County Engineer Leon Davenport, County officials continue to monitor the safety of the roads.

“We have not had lots of accidents in this area and consider it to be one of our safest intersections. We recommend pavement markings in this location, which I imagine could get done within the next couple of months. We also believe that restriping would make a huge difference, as the paint includes reflective beads that would help to add light to the location at night and when it is raining.”

The County wrapped up its part of the discussion by assuring the group that it does not foresee any fee adjustments or service level changes that will impact residents of unincorporated Chatham County.

“The only possible change could be in the 2021 budget and would be related to the new 911 Center,” County Chairman Al Scott said. “The Center will be funded through maintenance and operations of the General Fund's budget.”

State Legislature Updates

U.S. Representative Buddy Carter thanked the Association for continuing to hold a Legislative Roundtable each year.

“I believe these meetings are very constructive and progressive and allow a great platform to talk about important issues,” he said.

Carter went on to discuss what will happen in Congress by the end of the year, including an extension of the National Flood Insurance Program. Carter said the initial program worked well until about 2008. However, with the onslaught of storms starting with Hurricane Katrina, the program is bankrupt and needs revamping.

“We need an extension to give us time to rework the program, make it more sustainable, and encourage more private insurance involvement,” he said.

With the issue of flood insurance on the table, Cunningham asked Carter if he would be willing to help navigate the issue of possibly losing flood insurance discounts if Skidaway Island were to become a city.

“I am happy to help assist with trying to secure a waiver or whatever we need to do,” Carter said.

Next, State Senator Ben Watson addressed the room. He told the group that Georgia continues its trend of having the lowest state taxes in the Union, second only to Alaska. Watson said he does not foresee an increase in fees forthcoming.

Finally, Kathy Siler, Chair of the Incorporation Steering Committee, gave the group an update on the potential Incorporation of Skidaway Island. She reiterated that the committee currently is working to amend the Charter to correct problematic language related to homestead exemptions and to consider other Charter enhancements, including requiring a non-binding referendum before any tax increase and simplifying the City Council elections process. It is anticipated that the island-wide referendum concerning incorporation will go before registered Skidaway Island voters in either March or November of 2019. If passed, elections would follow for City Council and Mayor, and the City services would phase in over an up to the two-year period.

Siler asked Chatham County Chair Al Scott how he and the County feel about the possibility of Skidaway Island incorporating.

“I wouldn’t care if every inch of unincorporated Chatham County was in somebody’s municipality,” he said. “It really wouldn’t bother us in terms of what we do. I am not inclined to oppose anyone who wants to incorporate.”