Georgia lawmakers pushing to merge City of Savannah, Chatham County governments

Georgia lawmakers pushing to merge City of Savannah, Chatham County governments

CHATHAM CO., GA (WTOC) - Georgia lawmakers are fed up with local leaders. Both Savannah City and Chatham County officials continue to dispute about sharing the cost of Metro Police.

WTOC has been investigating the efforts that are underway at the state level that could potentially eliminate any future issues between the city and county. Local representatives are looking at how they can take the reigns to merge both governments. Senator Lestor Jackson says the state has to approve funding for a study to make sure it's feasible. They didn't get money last year, but he's confident they are going to get it during the upcoming session. He told us on the phone Friday that his efforts for consolidation are being fueled by the city and county's ongoing battle, which is coming at the expense of taxpayers.

"It is frustrating not only to the citizens, but it is very frustrating to the elected officials as well, as they bicker and fight over who should pay for what," said Senator Jackson.

The Georgia State Senator tells us he's disappointed as city and county leaders continue to waste time and tax dollars disputing the cost share of the police department.

"The local bickering should really go away and just concentrate on the things that are needed for our local government - and that's fighting crime and providing a better education," the senator said.

Senator Jackson believes the politics and games could simply be eliminated by merging the City of Savannah and Chatham County, creating the Savannah-Chatham County government. There are currently eight merged governments in Georgia, including Macon-Bibb County. The city and county merged after the state paid for a study to determine whether it was feasible. Jackson is among several lawmakers pushing for that same type of study and funding for Chatham County. He says it's a win-win. It streamlines priorities and it saves money.

"They have seen savings through their citizens when the two municipalities - county and city - are merged. We think there could be some potential savings, lower taxes for the people of Chatham County and the citizens of Savannah," said Senator Jackson.

Right now, it's actually costing taxpayers more to fund both city and county governments. In fact, it was just two weeks ago that Chatham County commissioners voted to raise taxes, partly to pay for their share of police services. Even though the city and county still haven't agreed on what that cost share will look like moving forward. Both sides are agreeing the solution that could eliminate all future disagreements.

"I don't think taxpayers should ever have to pay for duplication, so any services that we could consolidate, we should consolidate, so yes, I'm certainly open to the idea of consolidating government," said Chairman Al Scott.

Officials from the mayor's office say the city is also open to the idea. Senator Jackson says he's hoping to get nearly $200,000 from the state during the 2018 season to get the ball rolling.

"We should be acting as one unit for the betterment of our community," said Senator Jackson.

UGA"s Carl Vinson Institute is slated to conduct the six-month study. If they recommend it's feasible, Chatham County voters will get the final say on the ballot. The earliest that could happen is 2019.

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