Savannah City Council meets to discuss Berkshire study

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Savannah City Council is taking a closer look at the Berkshire study on the Savannah-Chatham Metro Police Department.

Members working to determine how to go forward with the recommendations made by the consultant hired by both the city and county.

Last week, Chatham County Commission challenged the study. Many commissioners saying it was based on guesses.

After all the pushback from commissioners, who are in hot water because of a possible 1.6 mills property tax increase, we heard from the city on how they stand behind the work done by Berkshire.

Those with the city are working to determine what recommendations they would like to go ahead with in the future concerning SCMPD. The city manager says we are looking for equity and fairness. He also says the city needs to adopt one service level standard for SCMPD.

Several times during the meeting, city leaders outlined the agreement to come up with an evidence-based funding formula and take a closer look at what the department needs as an agreement that was entered jointly and unanimously by the city and county. According to the city, taxpayers in Savannah proper have been paying for services that go outside of their area into unincorporated Chatham County. The County owes the City money for police services during fiscal year 2016 and 2017. We heard from the city's budget director on the issue providing costly police services in the future.

"In a situation that requires a SWAT team or hostage negotiations, we are protecting our officers and we will also look at that to see what cost recovery mechanism or intergovernmental agreement looks like," said Melissa Carter, budget director for the City of Savannah.

Also, when Metro's SWAT team or bomb squad units need to respond to areas outside of Savannah proper. Taxpayers in Savannah pay for that manpower and overtime.

WTOC asked Savannah leaders about how they feel about the county saying they are going to provide more realistic data in the coming days.

"In reality, the numbers pretty well speak for themselves and there is not a lot of wiggle room. I won't say there is not, I will leave that to the city manager and county manager and their staffs to figure that out, that is not my job. My job is to get great police service I feel like this does that," Savannah Mayor Eddie DeLoach said.

"It did not give us, either part, the ability to develop its own funding mechanism to suit their needs," Savannah City Manager Rob Hernandez said.

City leaders decided their goal based on the recommendations from Berkshire Advisors is to have a seven-minute response to priority one calls, violent crime, phased in over a period of three years.

Council is set to formally approve the study at the next city council meeting.

As we saw Friday, the Chatham County Commission has a very different take on the Berkshire report and its findings.

The city and Metro believe this backpedaling by the commission is simply a product of the county's need to raise property taxes to cover the costs of policing based on the report findings. And that it needs to point a finger at something and the Berkshire report is that something.

However, in a long conversation Tuesday afternoon with Commission Chairman Al Scott, he said the commission's lack of faith in the study is based on a report that is inaccurate and never asked the right questions about county police protection provided by the Metro merger.

He says the Berkshire report is filled with financial errors and in his opinion, was not the evidence-based study the county agreed to last year.

"I can't say it's an entire waste. I think there are a few elements of the report that may be beneficial and useful.  And then what I would like to do is have access to his input tabs and so we could put more realistic data in there and see what the funding formula would be, given if you had realistic data input," Chairman Scott said.

The chiarman says county staff has about 10 days to take this independent study and insert its own data for a new funding formula. The county needs a working budget by June 23.

WTOC asked for and received a copy of this inter-office memo sent out by SCMPD Chief Jack Lumpkin last Tuesday to the city council. It spells out that both sides agreed to the study, the consultant and to abide by the findings.

There are 49 recommendations the Berkshire study made here, and both the county and city agreed to most of the findings, shy of adopting the entire study.

That has the city council concerned that the county just doesn't like the results, because in the end, Berkshire says the county hasn't been paying its fair share.

The study that was supposed to help create a more efficient and effect plan for police protection, has only added fuel to the fire.

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