UPDATE: This story has been updated to reflect the correct initial registration fee amount for STVRs in Savannah, which is $300.
The Town of Thunderbolt has updated their recently implemented short-term vacation rental (STVR) regulations, adding a $700 registration fee. Recertification for an existing STVR will cost $580 thereafter.
The fees were approved by the town council at Wednesday's meeting by a 4-0 vote, with members Edward Drohan and Bethany Skipper recusing.
City manager Robert Milie explained that the fee was “not intended to make money” but to ensure the existing tax base, or its permanent residents, aren’t incurring costs from the STVR business.
The fee was determined by costs associated with staff time, code enforcement and STVR- regulating software, according to Milie.
"We're making sure it's (STVRs) not taking from our limited 2,600 residents," said Milie.
Initial registration fees for STVRs in the city of Savannah and Tybee Island are $300 and $200 respectively. Tybee also collects additional fees based on the STVR property's occupancy capacity.
Milie pointed out that Tybee and Savannah have a more robust staff and other sources of revenue that Thunderbolt does not have.
"If we're overestimating or underestimating, we will be dynamic and continue to make modifications as we see fit," said Milie.
Thunderbolt Town Council passed their first ordinance regulating STVRs in December, which set a limit of 70 rentals allowed in the city. The cap is the estimated number of existing rentals out of a total of 1,316 housing units in the city.
While the cap does not apply to owner-occupied rentals, the registration fee will apply across the board.
Council member Drohan, an STVR-owner who recused himself from the vote, raised questions about the costly fee to council during his public comment.
“If we were to lay these numbers side-by-side against any other business in this town, I wonder how these charges would appear in comparison,” said Drohan “A lot of the specifics that are identified in the justification (for the fees) exists nowhere else in this town of Thunderbolt, so, therefore, this is an exclusive class of taxpayers.”
Drohan further explained that he believes people would be less inclined to register their property as STVRs in Thunderbolt because of the fees.
“The anticipated income… I think will plummet,” said Drohan.
Milie pointed out that the STVR business model is inherently different from other businesses.
“We don’t have host compliance for anybody else…,” said Milie, “and you have to remember that they aren’t paying business taxes like the other businesses as well.”
Thunderbolt’s registration fee encompasses the costs for a business license.
Issues with STVR regulation continue to play out in other municipalities, such as Tybee Island and Savannah, as well. Local governments are in charge of regulating STVRs within their city, for the most part, which has led to heated debates among residents and their city councils.
Nancy Guan is the general assignment reporter covering Chatham County municipalities. Reach her at email@example.com or on Twitter @nancyguann.
This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Savannah neighbor Thunderbolt passes short-term vacation rental fee