ATLANTA – A Dunwoody lawmaker introduced a bill near midnight Thursday to incorporate St. Simons Island. The bill by Rep. Tom Taylor died a few moments later when the General Assembly completed its 2016 session, but it triggered the two-year countdown to a vote by residents next year, according to the chairman of the House Governmental Affairs Committee.
Taylor has been involved with the incorporation of other cities in metro Atlanta, so St. Simons supporters asked him to introduce a bill. The two members of the House who represent the island declined to act this year. Rep. Alex Atwood is giving up his House seat to run for a judgeship. Rep. Jeff Jones has said he had no interest in a symbolic gesture because he has been told the Senate will only consider incorporation bills introduced in odd-numbered years.
House Governmental Affairs Chairman Ed Rynders said Friday that he isn’t a stickler for which year a bill is introduced. “In order to do the deliberation that needs to be done, do the studies that need to be done, two years is reasonable,” said Rynders, R-Albany. “But 365 days is 365 days. I don’t know that it matters which two years.” During the two-year period, a university study is required to estimate the tax revenue available to the proposed city and calculate the cost of providing the services organizers plan to offer.
A bill passed by the Senate would have required another study to gauge the impact of those lost tax revenues on the county government and predict the need for a tax increase. But the House never voted on the bill, which would have spelled out in state law that incorporation bills would have to be introduced in odd-numbered years and considered in even ones. Jones said that even though the Senate bill failed to pass, Senate leaders intend to stick to its provisions. The death of Taylor’s incorporation bill means a new one will have to be introduced next year, and it will be up to both the House and the Senate to decide when to act on it. Then residents of the proposed city will vote, and Jones wants county residents to vote as well if they are going to be subject to a likely tax hike.
Jones has said he resents Taylor’s involvement. George Ragsdale, president of the Citizens for Saint Simons and Sea Island, issued a statement Friday afternoon calling Taylor’s action necessary because of Jones’ inaction.
“This was clearly not an attempt to have legislators from other areas meddle in our local affairs – but a legislative necessity to allow for discussion of incorporation to continue during the 2017 legislative session,” Ragsdale said. He accused Jones of going back on a commitment to introduce a bill himself. “He knows that his refusal to honor his commitment to file this legislation this year would have resulted in a delay in a public vote until at least 2018, and that is a delay that we cannot afford nor should we have to accept,” Ragsdale said. The rush, according to supporters, is to prevent the Glynn County Commission from agreeing to development that could alter the character of the island.