Chatham County leaders making tough decisions on budget - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Chatham County leaders making tough decisions on budget

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The single biggest line item in Chatham County's 2018 budget may not be settled in time to pass a completed budget. City and county leaders are not on the same page when it comes to funding public safety.

County commissioners must decide how much they will pay the city for their share of the police department. There will be a lot of negotiating going on well after the July 1 deadline for the budget.

The very public feud between city and county leaders is likely to only heat up in the coming weeks and months. The two sides must agree on splitting the cost of one of the most important public services: police protection.

The city has taken the findings of the Berkshire study and seem fine with it. The county has not done the same.

"My board hasn't voted. Our board said we have a lot of questions so now is the time to begin negotiations,” said Chatham County Manager Lee Smith.

The study said the county needs to add more money to the pot for police. County leaders have been critical of what they're calling a flawed report. The county originally owed the city almost $5 million for back-costs related to policing.

"We've already reduced that to less than $4 million from mistakes in the calculation,” said Smith.

Eventually, the city and county will agree to a contract and pay their fair share. That agreement will likely come well after the budget is completed by the July 1 deadline. The board does have a couple options without a firm dollar figure in place.

"They can set a dollar amount on what they would be willing to pay for, and I don't know what that number is so far. So I think we've got different options, the board has different options, but it's going to take, we're going to have to talk about that in the workshop and budget hearing next week,” said Smith.

The cost for policing will likely lead to a property tax increase. It's also forcing the commission to make tough calls in other departments. The sheriff is one of them. He wants an additional $600,000 for things like body cameras, updated technology, and jail improvements.

"These are things that I'm mandated by laws and I've got to have in order to make the sheriff's office work so I can serve and protect the people of this county,” said Chatham County Sheriff John Wilcher.

He also wants to increase salaries to make them more competitive with other agencies in the county. It's unclear if commissioners will grant the sheriff's wish. The budget is expected to be completed by June 23.

This is being called a lean budget year. In the worst-case scenario, the tax increase will cost you a little less than $20 a year for a $100,000 home. Once again, that public hearing is set for June 23 at 9:30 a.m. at the county building on Bull Street.

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