Residential Real Estate

Feb. 3 – UPDATED: The City of Skidaway? It’s More of a Real Possibility than Many Realize

Category: Residential Real Estate

By Lou Phelps, Savannah Business Journal

February 3, 2017 - UPDATED: The Landings Association continues to review the feasibility and desirability of Skidaway Island becoming a city through the process of incorporation, according to a recent email to residents obtained by the Savannah Business Journal. 

While some in City of Savannah and Chatham County government may dismiss the possibility, it may be advisable not to do so.  The Landings, a gated, private residential community, has approximately 4,000 homes, which includes several hundred still undeveloped lots. 

The Landings Association will hold an Incorporation Town Hall Meeting on Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. in the Plantation ballroom, one of The Landings country club settings.  In addition, a second Town Hall Meeting has been scheduled for the morning of Feb. 27 from 10 a.m. to noon. The Annual Meeting of The Landings Association has been postponed to March 20 at 7 p.m. in Plantation.

Next Monday, Feb. 6, residents will receive a Q & A from The Landings Association’s leadership to address questions that are pouring in.  And, they have hired Lee Hughes with Hughes Public Affairs of Savannah as their lobbyist. 

That’s because for The Landings to become a municipality – to incorporate – local legislation must be written and agreed to by the two Senators in the Chatham County Delegation, Sen. Ben Watson and Sen. Lester Jackson, and a majority of the six State Representatives for Chatham County.  In an interview today, Sen. Jackson said, “I see no reason to not let these residents of our county pursue a study of their options.”

However, the process of becoming a city in Georgia has been slowed down somewhat due to a rule change by the House Rules Committee, passed last week, that creates a two-year process:  in year one, the bill is filed, but it cannot be voted on until year two. Between those two sessions of the General Assembly, a study must be done that looks at the financial impacts to the County where a city will be carved out from Unincorporated areas.  For Chatham County, the impact would be immense due to the average value of homes at The Landings, and the tax revenue impact on local County government revenues.

One of the requirements to become a city in Georgia is to provide at least three services to all properties in the designated area, such as police, fire, water, sewer, roads or recreation, to name a few.  The Landings already provides water, roads and recreation, it is believed.

Last week, The Landings Association’s Board of Directors held a two-day work session reviewing state legal mechanics, processes, and requirements for municipal incorporation, as well as the results of a feasibility study prepared by the Georgia State University, Andrew Young School Center for State and Local Finance, according to Jim Rich, President of The Landings Association.

“The study concludes that it is financially feasible to incorporate the island as a city. Thus, the Board determined that our community should have the option to further discuss and explore whether this is a desirable direction that is supported by the residents of Skidaway Island, without being delayed by the legislative process for another two years,” he wrote residents this week.  

Residents at The Landings pay Chatham County taxes and Chatham County Unincorporated Special Service District taxes, “which is a significant amount, approximately between 3 to 4 mils,” explains Hughes.  They also pay Landings Association annual dues which help to cover many of the services to property owners there, such as The Landings’ own police security force.    Many residents also pay the Southside Fire Dept. for fire protection.  In general, The Landings does not receive service by the Savannah-Chatham Metro Police Dept, either.  

“They want to keep their options open. There is real interest by some on Skidaway Island to incorporate.  But they’re only introducing legislation to keep their options open. Nobody’s ready to leap and take a drastic step,” states Hughes, who adds, “They’ve been talking about it for years.”   

The Board adopted a Resolution last week that requests the elected officials of the Chatham County delegation to introduce legislation in the current Georgia General Assembly prior to the 40th day of the 2017 state legislative session. That buys time to conduct an updated study and possibly move in incorporation in the 2018 legislative session next January through March.   

However, there are other studies possibly ahead.  A budget request has also been made by the City of Savannah and Chatham County officials to ask for state funds for a study to merge the City of Savannah and Unincorporated Chatham.  The study would be conducted by the Carl Vinson School of Government at UGA to look at merging the City and County governments.  This would not affect the other seven municipalities in Chatham County. 

But, if the residents of Skidaway become their own city – the 9th municipality in Chatham County – then the City of Savannah might try to just annex the balance of Unincorporated Chatham, versus having to go through the merger process.  Because of the population that would remain in the Unincorporated area, however, the annexation question would have to go on the ballot for local voters to approve.

That would leave a Chatham County government that would not have to be involved in the management and assessment of costs to provide services for the Unincorporated areas’ Special Service District, including no longer having to argue with the City of Savannah over equitable police sharing costs. 

For some concerned about the political implications, annexing the remaining Unincorporated areas of Chatham would not only increase the land area, population and tax revenues of the ‘City of Savannah,’ but would diversify the voting population for municipal elections. 

Editor's Note:  The SBJ is attempting to reach Sen. Watson who represents The Landings and all Skidaway Island residents.   

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