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Roadblock to St. Simons incorporation?

Local efforts to turn St. Simons and Sea islands into a city hit a snag this week when a legislative study committee recommended that the proposed incorporation remain under review for two more years.

Cityhood backers vowed nonetheless to push forward by requesting legislative action in the upcoming General Assembly session which begins Monday.

“We are in the final stages of drafting our bill and our intent is to try and get the bill into the hopper this legislative session,” George Ragsdale, president of Citizens for St. Simons and Sea Island, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution on Wednesday. “That is still our plan and our goal.”

Ragsdale’s group wants greater say over traffic, development and beautification issues on the two upscale islands off Georgia’s southeastern coast favored by well-heeled Atlantans. Glynn County residents who live on the mainland fear a new city would drain tax dollars from county coffers. The powerful Sea Island Company also opposes incorporation.

A 1996 cityhood referendum failed by a wide margin. A straw poll of residents eight years later favored incorporation, but mainlanders mostly opposed it. Local legislators killed another incorporation push in 2006.

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Ragsdale’s group sought legislative approval this session with a referendum of islands’ voters later this year.

This week the state Senate’s Annexation, De-annexation and Incorporation Study Committee announced that cityhood, and its impact on Glynn County, needs more study. A two-year legislative cycle is the preferred timeframe, the committee suggested.

“I can’t see any scenario or timeline that would allow a St. Simons incorporation bill to go through all the discussion and committees and hearings and get voted on by 2016,” Rep. Jeff Jones, a Brunswick Republican, told the Brunswick News this week. “It would be 2017, at best.”

Said Ragsdale, who led the succesful incorporation of Milton in North Fulton a decade ago: “This is about the third or fourth attempt at trying to get the island incorporated. We feel we’re well ahead of the curve in terms of what the process should be.”

Rep. Jones, though, suggested another legislative solution: turning St. Simons into a “township.” A bill will likely be introduced this session to allow a more limited type of government, including control over planning, zoning and code enforcement.

Voters statewide would have to approve a constitutional amendment, possibly this November, allowing the creation of townships. St. Simons’ residents would also vote on it this fall.

“We are not opposed to a township, but from a timing standpoint, it’s a much more protracted timeframe,” Ragsdale said.

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