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FEATURE: A New 'City of Skidaway Island' Fails By Wide Margin

Category: Local Govts & Politics

PHOTO:  Mike Vaquer (front row in blazer) and Jean McRae (second from the left) surrounded by other Skidaway Island residents who worked hard over the past weeks to stop the effort to incorporate Skidaway Island into a new Chatham County municipality, celebrate at an election night watch party held at The Deck at Franklin Creek.    

By Lou Phelps
March 19, 2019 - 8:30 p.m. - In the vote today on the proposal to incorporate Skidaway Island into a new municipality in Chatham County, the results are in: 62.51% of registered voters opposed incorporation; only 37.49% of those voting approved the effort led by The Landings Association (TLA), which is oversees the gated community of The Landings, which includes the majority of the residential properties on the island. 

There were 168 absentee ballots cast; 2916 residents voted 'early and in-person over the past two weeks; and 2,782 people voted today.  The first results in, posted by 8:20 p.m., included today's vote and absentees, with 56.19% voting NO.  Because the final and total results ended up at 62.51% opposed, there was a very high percentage of the "No" vote which voted early. 

Total votes cast were 5,849, according to the Chatham County Board of Elections, out of the 8,069 eligible voters who resided at both The Landings and at all other residential neighborhoods on Skidaway Island. 

The effort to stop incorporation was led by Mike Vaquer and his wife, Jean McRae, both longtime residents of The Landings, who are also both government and business lobbyists, and considered experts in municipal, county and state government legislation.   Over many months, the Vaquers researched a long list of assertions by The Landings Association (TLA) board of directors and spokesmen, and systematically countered the TLA's assertions.  

The TLA worked on the incorporation effort for more than two years, taking the position that it was a way to control property taxes and Special Service District (SSD) taxes levied by the Chatham County government, and to gain increased Federal government aid after hurricanes or major storm events.

But, a groundswell of those opposed grew over the past month, as residents began to focus on the impending vote after a series of meetings were held.  On many of the social media posts of residents, there was a clear and growing opposition who questioned why the TLA board had spent $200,000 on lobbyists and other expenses without first gaining clear support by property owners to move forward on the incorporation.  And, many appeared to believe that they suspected there were real estate development forces at work, that were the primary reason the TLA board wanted to incorporate. 

The effort by the TLA appears to have begun more than two years ago based on a belief that the City of Savannah wanted to annex Skidaway Island, even though multiple city officials denied there was any interest or effort to annex the island.   

State Sen Ben Watson and State Rep. Jesse Petrea filed the bill necessary to bring the question to the area voters, as requested by the TLA board.

In an interview tonight after the final votes were announced, a jubilant Mike Vaguer's reaction was, "It was not a good idea to incorporate Skidaway Island yesterday; it is not a good idea to incorporate today, and it will not be a good idea to incorporate in the future.  Incorporating Skidaway Island does not work."  And he added, "The voters have spoken."  

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