SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Savannah City Council got a start on their 2019 budget Thursday - and the much-opposed fire fee was not on the agenda.
Public safety took the majority of funding, followed by good government, infrastructure, neighborhood revitalization, and economic strength. While these are their priorities, most of Thursday’s discussion focused on proposed cuts to the Savannah Fire Department.
It’s hard to compare this year’s budget to last year’s, and that’s because there have been so many changes in the last 10 months alone - fire fee, increased mileage rate, and then the repealing of the fire fee.
“Essentially, the 2019 proposed budget has no significant “wa-hoo’s” associated with it. We’re trying to make sure moving forward and focus on operational performance," said chief budget officer, Melissa Carter.
The drama of the highly-opposed fire fee was no where in sight, unlike last year’s budget workshop. Officials say it was not even on the table when making the 2019 proposed budget.
“Right now, I don’t see anyone looking for that or wanting that at this time based on the public’s opinion on it, no need to stir a hornet’s nest," said Mayor Eddie DeLoach, City of Savannah.
However, cuts might be coming to the Savannah Fire Department. On top of the 18 positions that are being trimmed from the department this year, another 15 positions will be reconfigured along with nearly $650,000 less in their operating budget. The chief budget officer tells us it has nothing to do with not implementing the fire fee.
“It comes back to this. You, as the elected officials have to decide what level of service you want in this community. For me, I want the best," said Chief Charles Middleton, Savannah Fire Department.
Despite the possible fire department cuts, there is still a priority for public safety. The police department is proposing new forensic vehicles, new helmets, and 50 new patrol rifles in the 2019 budget. The city is waiting to hear back from a UGA study on the fire department in January regarding staffing and cutbacks.
Public safety is one of the main platforms DeLoach stood on when running for Mayor of Savannah. Three years later, the city says surveys and feedback also show a parallel with the community.
“He said, Ms. Carter, and city manager, our budget needs to 100 percent align with the strategic priorities of this community,” Carter commented.
Friday, they’ll meet again to hash out more details regarding the FY19 proposed budget. City officials anticipate to adopt the final version of this budget in a little over three weeks.