Savannah's budget retreat begins as city deals with LOST, crime - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Savannah's budget retreat begins as city deals with LOST, crime

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SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) -

So how do you deal with juvenile crime? For Savannah-Chatham Metro Police Chief Willie Lovett, it's hiring specialized juvenile officers.

He's said it before, and Thursday morning he will say it again. However, as Savannah's city council and staff begin 2013 budget sessions, is the money in the budget for 60 plus new officers?

The short answer is not right now, but this is only a proposed budget with some flexibility as the chief lays out his specific plan for how these officers will be used.

Mayor Edna Jackson, following the fair shootings and her statement to the public Monday, told WTOC she wants to find a way to truly get through to juveniles involved in crime and high risk teens. She wants to see more officers talking to teens and visiting schools as well as a renewed focus on juvenile crime.

Council members believe teen violence and the drug problem go hand in hand. 

"One of the things we want to see put in place is a unit for juveniles and crime," Jackson told WTOC.

Also, how do we tackle the drug problem we are having? The answer may be an idea the chief has be speaking about the last few months. He wants to create both a new drug task force dedicated to street level drugs and hire specialized officers who are trained in juvenile crime.

He will lay out his plan with even more specifics as council continues day two of their 2013 budget retreat at 9 a.m. Thursday at the Savannah Civic Center.

With a new year approaching, a new budget proposal and a new person in charge at city hall, WTOC learned that former city manager Rochelle Small-Toney may have played a much larger part in the budget than some may think.

Small-Toney's only been gone a month and a half, so not surprisingly, she is considered the main architect of the budget.

Acting city manager Stephanie Cutter told WTOC that 95 percent of the budget was finished before she took over the office, leading the city in the transition from Small-Toney to whoever will eventually be hired as her official replacement.

While many praised Small-Toney for her budget skills, including large surpluses, some also questioned moves she made, including what some perceived as personal attacks on the Savannah Film Office, starting with the combining of the office with Leisure Services.

It raises the question, will council, or even Cutter, take measures to reverse some of those more controversial budget decisions of the past.

Cutter tells WTOC she won't, but the next city manager might.

Jackson wants to digest this budget first.

"What we have seen thus far as far as recommendations coming from our finance department are very amenable to our priorities but until we see the full presentation, it's too early to know what is what," she said.

There is one huge question mark hanging in the balance for the proposed 2013 budget. Revenue figures used to develop the budget hinge on how much of the Local Option Sales Tax funds the city will get.

Savannah, and seven other municipalities, are waiting for a date in court with Chatham County to find out how much of LOST they will get.

It will be all up to a judge.

"If he goes in anyway contrary to what we, the municipalities, want, it means some of us may have to look at other ways to bring revenue into our cities," Jackson explained.

Adding even more urgency to the situation is the city needs to adopt it's budget by Jan. 1, 2013, and any further delay in getting LOST settled in court could put their budget schedule in jeopardy.

Jackson says a judge has been named to settle the dispute between the cities of Chatham County and the county, as even mediation could not help decide how the $60 million will be divided.

It leaves the city of Savannah looking at a back up plan.

"The money is generated in the communities and in the cities. You are talking about having to raise property taxes and find other ways of raising fees. It's just not fair to the cities," Jackson said.

Savannah, Pooler, Tybee Island, Port Wentworth, Garden City, Bloomingdale, Thunderbolt and Vernonberg all have to depend on their lawyers to keep them updated and on track as they deal with budgets and wait for a court date.

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