SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - When it comes to the state of the City of Savannah, we have gained and we have lost over the last year.
Mayor Eddie DeLoach's priorities do reflect the demands of city taxpayers for 2017, for the most part. However, what the mayor wants to do and how he wants to do it, will also create some fireworks among council members this year beginning with his proposed attack on an advancing plague the city has had little success in stopping.
The message to the state legislature was clear three weeks ago., Savannah needs the ability to repossess property faster so blight can bloom. The attack through eminent domain on thoughtless property owners is one of Mayor DeLoach's top priorities.
"We all know that blighted properties only lead to higher crime because it gives the criminals a place to hide, drug users a place to violate the law, or children a place to endanger their lives forever," said Mayor DeLoach.
But doing that means changing the state law that otherwise makes a city wait 20 years to redevelop what it chooses to take. And not every council member is on board with that kind of a free-for-all.
District 5 Alderwoman Dr. Estella Shabazz held a town hall on the eve of the mayor's State of the City Address, arguing that changing eminent domain laws would allow developers to price otherwise principled property owners right out of the neighborhood.
"One of the main reasons I am opposed to even considering imminent domain is that there are other means that can be used to clean up the blight in our community," said Dr. Shabazz.
However, fines, tax liens, billing property owners for repairs or clean-up haven't really paid dividends for decades. In fact, those remedies alone have allowed dozens more blighted properties to appear on the city's radar year after year.
The mayor's other top priority to attack crime in Savannah is a bit more direct.
"The council is committed to giving the police department all the resources they need to achieve lower crime. This includes 18 additional officers, additional security and body cameras, cars and improved lighting," said Mayor DeLoach.
Actually, those 18 new officers were funding by federal grant money.
Even so, the mayor and council have already submitted the city budget for 2017. And there appears to be a void between the city's commitment to fighting violent crime and money needed to do it.
For months Savanah-Chatham Metro Police Chief Jack Lumpkin has been telling council he needs another 50 officers this year and 50 officers next year to build his undercover and detective units. The front line men and women battling violent crime.
For whatever reason, the council didn't see it that way.
SCMPD spent just under $76 million protecting you last year. This year, the year when fighting violent crime is our top priority, the chief gets nothing more. In fact, the numbers show a cut in the police budget.
The 2017 budget gives Metro less than $73 million. After accounting for removing animal control and cutting marine patrol, that's a $2 million slice of police funding. Meaning the chief can fill existing positions but can't hire a single new officer without pitching for more grants.
To be fair, the mayor emphasized that his campaign to eliminate blighted properties would never be aimed at crushing the American Dream of home ownership, that he intends to help those who simply can't afford to keep up their own homes. What he's going after are blighted properties that have been an issue for decades.