WTOC Investigates: Savannah's Study Spree - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

WTOC Investigates: Savannah's Study Spree

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) -

Over the last decade, the City of Savannah has considered a number of projects, from a new baseball stadium to a cruise ship terminal; dozens of projects that have more in a common than you think.

They’ve all been studied.

In a WTOC Investigation, I uncovered 24 studies in six years and nearly $8.6 million of your tax dollars.

But the $8 million question is, what do we have to show for it?

If you think all these mircoscopes on the city have resulted in a better quality of life for you, or greater efficiencies in running the city, you’re about to be very disappointed.  

In six years, not much has changed along the city’s skyline. It seems almost frozen time. But since 2011, there have been three mayors, new council members elected, a new police chief appointment and a complete overall of the department.

City leaders have been very vocal about new ideas and projects, and yet some believe the city is paralyzed when it comes to implementing change. 

“We all know what the issues are in Savannah, so I don’t understand why all of this money is being spent on revisiting our issues and not acting upon them,” said Savannah resident KC Allan.

“What really needs to come about as a result of these studies are actions,” said resident Todd McKissick.

An open records request to the city for an itemized list of completed and on-going studies was denied because the city does not track that data. So we compiled our own list through city council minutes, sorting through more than 140 meetings since 2011.

We found the city has conducted at least 24 studies and spent nearly $8.6 million dollars doing it.

“I had no number in mind, but let’s just say this one blew me away,” said Mayor Pro Tem Carol Bell.

Only one in five of those expensive studies ever resulted in the city taking any action based on the findings. Others were dropped altogether, like the quarter of a million-dollar cruise ship terminal study.

And then there was the $55,000 baseball stadium study when the Sand Gnats were still here. A couple of the most expensive studies, related to the Arena and Project Derenne, saw millions spent and nothing to show for it.

Yet. Funding for the Arena has been approved but construction is still several years away.

We sat down with City Manager Rob Hernandez to talk about our study-happy ways he recently inherited and how we compare to other communities our size.  

“This city operates as if it had a million people instead of 150,000,” he said. “To me, it’s mind boggling. “

Hernandez said there’s nothing out of the ordinary with the types of studies and the amount being spent. What’s unusual is seeing it in a city this size. 

And some veteran city leaders admit we’re spending and juggling too much.

“I think it says to us we need to do a better job,” Bell said.

“Are we involved in too much right now and maybe we need to look at where we spending our resources?” I asked.

“That is an excellent question, and that is one of the focus areas of the strategic planning process,” Hernandez said.

Most cities have a strategic plan, a roadmap to streamline goals and prioritize spending. Savannah doesn’t, but we are spending more than $100,000 conducting a study on how to come up with one. 

Consultants have been holding town hall meetings, gathering data and will ultimately make a recommendation.

“The bottom line, we will go through an exercise where the city council will help determine what our core and essential services are,” Hernandez said.

This could be the study that marks as the turning point for all future studies, but some fear this is just another one to add to the list. 

“You know, we are paying outsiders just to tell us back what we already know, and we are never moving forward with what we do on those surveys,” Allan said.

“You know, the studies are great, they give us valuable information. So now with this information, what are we going to do about it?” McKissick asked.

The city has been wrapping up its town hall meetings this week, asking people what they want to see in the strategic plan.

Officials say they do plan to use and implement the findings of this study by July, when they intend to have a strategic plan in place. 

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