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Residential Real Estate

Garden City Hoping for Crowd at Southbridge Annexation Meeting Tonight

SDN Staff

12/14/2009 - You might think that Chatham County would be opposed to one of its most affluent residential areas, Southbridge, in western Chatham County, talking about being annexed by Garden City, but you would be wrong.

The county, which has had a series of financial problems this year, has been operating a Special Service District for Southbridge and it's been expensive.

Garden City is encouraging the residents of Southbridge to secede from unincorporated Chatham County and agree to be annexed, and city officials are holding a public information meeting tonight at 6:30 p.m. at Garden City's new city hall, located directly across from the entrance to Southbridge.

"Some of the residents that I have spoken to said that they want to make sure that they have enough services coming to them, but also they didn't want to pay any additional taxes or fees. Of course, an increase in taxes is being mentioned as a concern by some residents. Garden City doesn't have any property taxes now, but if they perform other services then there will be more fees," said Chatham County Commission Chairman Pete Liakakis.

"They're still going to be paying county taxes, but Garden City would provide the services," explained Liakakis. What has occurred is that the Southbridge people are paying for a couple of off-duty police officers that patrol the general area there, and they've been doing that for a couple of years. Now if Garden City annexes them, the city will have to provide that," added Liakakis.

"They should not have any additional taxes or fees if they are annexed," he summarized.

There are about 1,200 current homes in Southbridge, "But you probably could get another 500 in there, maybe as much as 2,000," according to Garden City manager Brian Johnson, in an interview with Savannah Daily News.

His case for annexation to Southbridge residents?

"You've got to start with the Special Service District, which per Russ Abolt (County Manager) "is a train wreck'," said Johnson. It's an insolvent fund that they're really struggling to continue to provide now, and is part of the financial challenges of the county.

"This year they added a $43.00 fee for dry trash removal. And there is a storm water user fee. They are examples of the county struggling to generate enough revenue for that district. You're in a very dynamic area of the county, and the future of it is in doubt," said Johnson. "How it will look...whether the special district will even remain, which is one of the things driving Southbridge to look at our proposal," he said.

"Some are not happy with the services they are now getting," Johnson added, based on his conversations with many residents.

The big issue is property taxes. Garden City has none. What is the likelihood of Garden City continuing to have no property taxes? "Very much in favor of continuing to have no property taxes - we've gone 70 years without ever having crossed that threshold," Johnson said. "We're very financially sound. Garden City is setting itself up as a fee-based system, versus a property tax system, which is more equitable."

"If you own a parcel that is undeveloped and has no impervious surface, you don't get charged for storm water services, etc." he pointed out.

"We have a substantial occupational tax base because of the port," he said. "Our major thoroughfares are DOT maintained," he added, both of which hold down city budget expenses and provide revenue.

Johnson's goal is to bring an annexation bill to the 2010 General Assembly session, which would then lead to a special referendum vote by the residents; he then needs 50 percent plus one of Southbridge residents who vote to agree to the annexation.

Or, without a vote through the General Assembly, a petition can be signed by the owners of 60 percent of the real property in the area in question to call for an annexation vote.

A bill has not yet been written, and Johnson has not yet identified sponsors. "But I have not even asked a legislator, because I've been waiting on tonight. I don't want to ask a state rep or senator to carry a bill until we have a good grasp of where we're at. Then I'll have something to take them," he said.

Garden City mailed a meeting notice to every household, hoping to reach the residents. "We're going to be prepared to seat 500 tonight," he said. "It's going to come down to informing the residents. If we can inform the residents, we feel pretty comfortable that our proposal is the most beneficial to Southbridge. But apathy is our largest obstacle."

Johnson said that he could not estimate the total value of the property in Southbridge that would become part of Garden City, if annexed. "We don't have property taxes, so that's not something that we concern ourselves with."
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