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Residential Real Estate

Feb. 7 – Mega details on Landings Association’s motives and vision for “City of Skidaway Island,” and the $1.6 to $1.8 they might reap

Category: Residential Real Estate

By Lou Phelps, Savannah Business Journal

February 7, 2017 – As first reported last week by the SBJ, The Landings Association is taking a serious and hard look at creating a new municipality for Skidaway Island. To date, $50,000 has been spent on an independent study, and a lobbyist has been hired.

Concurrently, Chatham County is about to undertake an independent study approved by all eight members of the Chatham County Delegation to study a merger of the county government with ALL of the municipalities in the county, not just the City of Savannah with Unincorporated Chatham.  The funding is part of the Governor’s Budget request, yet to be approved.

This week, all property owners on The Landings received a Landings Association’s “Message from the President” and a General Managers update that answered a number of questions posed by resident to date.  A meeting is planned in few weeks for all to attend. (See related story.)

“The Landings Association continues to review the feasibility and desirability of Skidaway Island becoming a city through the process of incorporation. Below are some Frequently Asked Questions and their Answers, as a handy reference,” states the Association. 

Here are the details provided:

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 is seeking to have placeholder legislation submitted to 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. As currently envisioned, the City would include all land once you cross the fixed bridge across the Skidaway Narrows onto Skidaway 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; and

9. To address dissatisfaction with the current service from the county government.

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.

In addition, if Skidaway Island does not become a city by 2021, we would lose out on negotiations for Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) until 2031. This funding is estimated at $2.3 million/year, and would be the second largest funding source for the City.

As well, the State Legislature has now begun a study regarding consolidating the City of Savannah with all of unincorporated Chatham County, including The Landings. Therefore, The Landings and 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, we would be included in a new merged government even if we voted against it, if the majority of those affected voted in favor.

Q. What’s the status of the Chatham County/City of Savannah merger? 

A. A study is underway by the Carl Vinson Institute of the University of Georgia to determine the financial feasibility. Thereafter, the local legislative delegation, if it decides to proceed, could draft various conditions for a merger into a bill.

Q. Why don't we just wait for that study to be completed? Better yet, why don't you just leave things alone?

A. The role of the Association’s Board, as elected representatives of The Landings Association, is strategic leadership and forward thinking on behalf of our community. It would be easy, but irresponsible, to ignore such issues as the possible city/county merger or consolidation proposal and hope for the best. We believe it is our responsibility to initiate the community discussion about our future. We also believe that as our residents become actively engaged in the discussion and fully explore the options, we can collectively determine if incorporation as a city makes sense for Skidaway Island, regardless of merger discussions.

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.

Q. Why would we, the residents, want to incorporate Skidaway Island?

A. The taxes collected by Chatham County for the Special Services District (SSD) would go to a new city of Skidaway Island for funding a government focused on our island and our 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 on our own whether to install a roundabout at the four-way stop; make application as a City to FEMA for storm debris removal; 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 2016 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

Total

11.543

4.130

1.000

16.631

33.304 mills

 

As envisioned, were Skidaway Island to become its own city, the 4.130 mills paid into the Special Services District instead would go to the City of Skidaway Island.

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 financial Feasibility Study recently completed by the Andrew Young School of Government reports there would be no need for a tax increase. The Study reports the City of Skidaway Island should have a net annual surplus of between $1.6 and 1.8 million dollars, even after the City of Skidaway Island takes on the responsibilities of the current Special Services District.

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 could 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 revenue of $6.4 million. Please see the summary chart below from page 10 of the Incorporation Feasibility Study.

“Please also note that these are not new taxes,” according to the Association. “Rather, they currently are collected and retained by other governments and would, instead, be collected and retained by the City of Skidaway Island.

Q. Could my property taxes decrease?

A. The initial property tax millage would be determined after conversations with our island community on expectations for city services and service levels. The Andrew Young study was based on a set of assumptions reflecting services currently provided under the SSD. Further community discussion and analysis would be needed to structure a minimal city government that effectively meets the needs of all island residents and ultimately could change the projected surplus up or down. In addition, the elected City Leadership could consider a reduction to the millage rate.

Q. Speaking of City Leadership, is this whole process really about someone who wants to be Mayor?

A. No. None of the Association paid staff nor current Board members involved in this effort will participate in either an elected (unpaid) or appointed (paid) position within the new City. Rather, all involved believe that incorporation may benefit the entire island with increased representation and responsiveness for the tax dollars we pay.

Q. Who would operate police services, fire services, court systems, etc.?

A. Public safety and security is of the utmost importance. All of this will be analyzed as part of an extensive study process. As currently envisioned, there would be no change to the fire services, as that would remain with residents’ subscribing to Southside Fire Department. The water systems on Skidaway are owned by private companies, and that would remain unchanged. Residents would continue to contract with the trash provider of their choosing. Skidaway Island residents would need to determine how to handle other services such as police response, court systems, etc. Starting on page 12 of the Incorporation Feasibility Study, the Andrew Young School of Government lays out some possible options. Again, all of this would be determined in detail over the next year as part of the planning and community discussion process.

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, 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 by the City of Skidaway Island.

Q. What are the next steps?

A. The Landings Association has asked our State Representative Jesse Petrea and our State Senator Ben Watson to introduce a bill this year moving the conversation forward. Under State House Rules, if a bill is not introduced this year, this incorporation effort would have to wait two more years to begin.

Once the bill is introduced, The Landings Association will continue our open, transparent discussions with all island stakeholders, including South Harbor, Modena, and The Marshes.

If this study and discussion continue to indicate that incorporation is in the best interest of Skidaway Island, the State Legislature could formally consider the bill in early 2018. If passed by the Legislature, all of the residents 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 in 2021.

Q. How can I get more information?

A. Due to the amount of interest in this topic, the Board decided to replace the scheduled Annual Meeting of The Landings Association on February 27 at 7 p.m. in the Plantation ballroom with an Incorporation Town Hall Meeting. In addition, a second Town Hall Meeting has been scheduled for the morning of the 27th from 10 a.m. to noon. The Annual Meeting of The Landings Association will be held on March 20 at 7 p.m. in Plantation. The Landings Association also will continue to put out Email Bulletins and update Landings.org/Incorporation.

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