Chatham Co. Commission responds to Savannah City Council SCMPD vote

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - It's been a week since Savannah City Council unanimously voted to end the more than decade-old Savannah-Chatham Metro Police merger agreement with Chatham County.

Now, we're hearing from elected county leaders for the first time about the city's decision, as well as what's next for police coverage in the unincorporated areas of the county. Chatham County Chairman Al Scott took the lead on Friday following the regular agenda items to read aloud, for the record, his written response to the city's vote last week.

That letter to Mayor Eddie DeLoach said city and county staff was working to find a solution to errors in the Berkshire Study's finding formula for hours, just a day before Council took the vote to dissolve the merger agreement. The work may not matter anymore, so county staff has now been tasked with coming up with options for commissioners to vote on.

Chairman Scott made it clear that no decision has been made at this point to either create a county police department or have the sheriff's office pick up the responsibility. The chairman had these words for the public regarding the future of policing in the unincorporated parts of the county.

"I also want to ensure that they have no fear; that come Feb. 1, if we are no longer part of a merged Metro Police Department, there will be police protection and service within the unincorporated area," Chairman Scott said.

County Manager Lee Smith says a transition team has already been formed and has adopted the motto, 'To Protect and Serve.' Smith says they'll be asking the city to form a similar team so they can work out things like vehicle and personnel issues.

Following Friday's commission meeting, Scott was asked about the finality of the city's vote to dissolve the police merger agreement. He responded, and an elected city leader shared his response.

"Our intent was for the department to stay merged. The city took a vote to end it. So, if the city wants to enter into any sort of discussion to keep it merged. I think the first thing they would have to do is go vote to rescind their vote," Scott said.

"If the county is interested in talking to us, I feel certain everybody on council would be interested in listening, but county leaders need to make the first step. We've already done all these steps, and to say, 'well, we would have to vote to rescind'...for what? We never got an answer," said District 4 Alderman Julian Miller.

We also asked Chairman Scott about the recently approved millage rate increase to support police service costs. He says the increase in tax is enough no matter the outcome of the merger agreement.

"I concluded that when I decided what I would recommend to Commission because staff had recommended a higher millage, if you recall. I reduced it because I felt it would be adequate funding if we stayed merged, and it would be adequate funding if we set up our own department."

County and city staff are still meeting post-city merger vote to determine what's still owed per the merger agreement.

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