THE Landings Association of Skidaway Island has opted to give back $792,888 in funds it secured from the federal government through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), intended to throw a lifeline to small businesses and nonprofits during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"After careful consideration and deliberation, the Board of Directors of The Landings Association (TLA) voted to return the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds," said an email late last week from the TLA to members.
The Landings is a gated community on Skidaway Island, and one of the most affluent zip codes in the region.
The TLA began applying for the program on April 3 — the very first day applications were open — and by April 29 had received the money.
"Before applying, the Association sought guidance from our accounting firm, which confirmed eligibility and recommended application due to economic uncertainty," the TLA said at the time.
Why did the homeowner's association for Savannah's most affluent community think it needed the funds?
"At the time of application, the Association already was seeing a tremendous impact on collections of 2020 Assessments. There were 127 more accounts delinquent in paying their annual Assessment than in the previous year (an 82% increase). These Assessments are critical to the health of the Association, as they account for 64% of our revenue, which is necessary to support and maintain our employees and service levels," the TLA said.
"Also at that time, the Marinas were closed, and there was much uncertainty surrounding when they could be reopened, and what would happen with the staff," they said.
"That made it a prudent business decision to apply for the Paycheck Protection Program, especially to maintain staffing levels rather than implementing layoffs."
The TLA received the funds on Wednesday, April 29, in the requested amount of $792,888, after working with Ameris Bank on the application.
However, late last week, after word got around in the Landings and not everyone was pleased, they changed their tune.
"The Association applied for the PPP loan in consultation with our accounting firm. The intent of the Association was and is to protect the property owners by accessing available sources of capital to keep employees on the payroll and providing community services," the TLA said last week.
The closed Facebook group The Landings on Skidaway Island featured many members incensed over the application for the funds.
"The optics right now are not good for TLA," one poster said.
"I know too many small businesses who needed that money," wrote another. "Shame on TLA if that is true [that they applied for the funds]."
"We acknowledge the voices of many in the community who believe the funds should have been returned, as well as many who believe TLA should have kept the funds. There were numerous variables involved and even more unknowns about how the future will play out. The Board based the decision on the current impact of COVID-19 on the Association's finances," they said.
A similar situation arose recently in South Carolina, when the Kiawah Island Community Association — equivalent to the Landings' TLA — returned $1 million in PPP funds, also after outcry from residents and neighboring areas.
In that case, spearheading the public call to return the money was a member of Congress, Rep. Joe Cunningham, who represents that area of South Carolina.
“I am incredibly disappointed that Kiawah Island Community Association took advantage of a program that was designed to offer a lifeline to struggling small businesses. When Congress approved spending billions of dollars of taxpayer money to help small businesses and their workers survive this crisis, it wasn’t meant for giant corporations with deep pockets or wealthy community associations with millions of dollars in reserve funds," Cunningham said prior to the Association's return of the money.