Savannah arts community speaks out against budget cuts

Savannah arts community speaks out against budget cuts

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - As the city of Savannah looks to cut millions of dollars of spending to level out the budget for next year, dozens representing non-profits feeling the effects particularly hard showed up in force at Thursday's council meeting to ask for reconsideration.

For arts and cultural groups to social services, the city's budget staff is recommending more than $400,000 in cuts

Savannah City Manager Rob Hernandez called the meeting probably his most controversial so far, granted he's only about five in. He says he's taking the feedback, and direction from council, to look at other options.

There was plenty of feedback for Savannah City Council members and city staff to listen to.

"The funding cuts across these 11 cultural institutions will impact 114,000 program participants, including more than 24,000 under-served youth. Those are youth and families in every one of your districts," said Director & CEO of Telfair Museums, Lisa Grove.

Kris Rice, Executive Director of Coastal Children's Advocacy Center, an organization cut completely out of the proposed 2017 grant program funds, also spoke.

"I understand that public safety and crime reduction are important, but you cannot reduce violent crime when children are witnessing shootings and not getting the intervention they need. We cannot reduce violent crime in this community when we cut services to victims of sexual and severe physical abuse," Rice said.

One by one, each speaker made their case to council. Several council members provided their own feedback.

"This right here, to me, speaks volumes, and I do not take anything that is going on in this room lightly," said Dr. Estella Shabazz, District 5.

Alderwoman Shabazz encouraged those making their appeals to also take concerns to the Chatham County Commission, which does not make the kinds of contributions to the arts and social services that the city does. In fact, Savannah is the county's one city that does.

"The burden has to be on all of us, not just on Savannah, and given the financial constraints that we're operating under, unfortunately, I had to recommend slight reductions to both funding for cultural arts and for social services," said Savannah City Manager, Rob Hernandez.

It's not that Hernandez wasn't moved; he's just not quite ready to budge.

"I'm gonna give them a couple of options: Number one would be status quo, which is adopt what I gave them. Number two will take into account an adjustment to millage rate. Item number three would be to restore the $400,000 or so that we're talking about by either raising additional revenue or by instituting other cuts in other places in the organization," he said.

Hernandez added that even with the cuts, the city does contribute more than $11 million a year to the arts and social services from other sources.

That $400,000 in cuts to the arts and social services makes up roughly three percent of the cuts across the board, being felt by all facets of Savannah City government.

The public will have another opportunity to speak on the proposed budget at the December 22nd council meeting.

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