State Rep. Jeff Jones said Monday he will sponsor a bill that could lead to cityhood for St. Simons Island, but he first wants assurances that such a move does not have significant negative impacts on Brunswick and the rest of Glynn County.
If approved, the measure would allow St. Simons Island residents to vote on whether they want to incorporate as a city.
The bill is being drafted, Jones said, adding that he will not submit it until those questions are answered.
“I have given the legislation to the legislative counsel and have authorized him to proceed in drafting the legislation,” said Jones, R-St. Simons Island. “But it is my intention to be very, very open as we evaluate and consider incorporation legislation. I want to be sure that all parties who are impacted have an opportunity to voice their concerns.”
He would sponsor the bill on behalf of Citizens for St. Simons and Sea Island, a grassroots group of residents who believe incorporation is the best way for islanders to gain control over hot-button issues such as overdevelopment, code enforcement and protecting the tree canopy.
Jones’ concerns about the possible effects of island incorporation on the surrounding community is shared by the Brunswick-Golden Isles Chamber of Commerce.
Chamber president Woody Woodside expressed those concerns in an email Sunday.
“The business community feels strongly the true impacts of such an incorporation need to be clarified and understood by one, the taxpayers of the city of Brunswick, as well as the entire county, including the taxpayers on St. Simons Island and Sea Island,” Woodside wrote.
George Ragsdale, the leader of Citizens of St. Simons and Sea Island, said the answers Jones seeks will likely be found in a study conducted for the group last year by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia. The group hired the institute to conduct a study on the feasibility of cityhood for St. Simons Island.
The study showed no negative impact on Brunswick and no more than a 4 percent loss to the county’s tax base, he said.
Ragsdale said his group is pleased that Jones has agreed to sponsor the bill. The group said a recent poll it conducted shows that 61 percent of island residents favor incorporation, with 6 percent undecided and 33 percent opposed.
“We’re glad that he’s going to do it,” Ragsdale said. “We’re going to do our best to try and get him the information he needs. The study that we’ve already provided will give him the numbers that will determine what the impact will be.”
Rep. Alex Atwood, R-St. Simons Island, said Monday he supports the bill, although he will not co-sponsor it because he is not seeking re-election.
“Although I have not agreed to co-sponsor Rep. Jones’ legislation, this should not imply any reluctance on my part to assist and support Rep. Jones as he carries his bill through the legislative process, nor is it detrimental to the bill’s passage as I have clearly stated my legislative intent,” Atwood said.
With 27 days remaining in the 40-day General Assembly, Jones believes there is time to get the answer he needs about incorporation’s local impacts and still get it passed this year.
“If we ultimately do decide that creating a city is the best way to deal with the issue at hand, I will work tirelessly to ensure that the legislation we prepare and the city it creates is the best city in the state of Georgia,” Jones said.
Meanwhile, a bill that would allow townships to be formed in Georgia is making its way through the legislative process, Jones said. Jones, Atwood and Sen. William Ligon, who make up the local legislative delegation to the General Assembly, all support the township proposal. They believe township status would give St. Simons the power it needs to control zoning and code enforcement, but it is a more limited form of government that would not affect surrounding communities.
The township bill must pass by two-thirds majority vote of the Senate and House of Representatives. The measure would then go to a statewide vote on a constitutional amendment for the creation of townships. Presently, cities are the only recognized municipal status in Georgia.
The bill would be written so that St. Simons residents could vote on becoming a township in November, in conjunction with the statewide vote, Jones said.