Chatham County Commission Chairman speaks on standalone department

CHATHAM CO., GA (WTOC) - Earlier this month, Chatham County Commission voted to adopt budget recommendations to fund a stand-alone county police department.

For the first time since that meeting, we're hearing from Chatham County Commission Chairman Al Scott about the budget changes and what that means for taxpayers from your wallet to your security.

The tax increase to fund the new county police department will come from the special service district, the unincorporated part of the county.

"The increase was to reflect those increased costs in policing the unincorporated area. Whether it's a merged department or a stand-alone department," said Scott.

That includes anything from body cameras for officers to pay increases.

"All we did with the increase, and it was less than a mill, to really try to capture those costs that we expected would be part of public safety going forth. And that's really what the increase was for. The increase was not to stand up a separate department," said Scott.

As far as how that's going to affect each individual household, in terms of exact dollar amounts, we've asked to get that figure and county staff is looking into it.

"I don't think you can put a price on our citizens feeling safe. I think whatever the cost is, that's the cost," said Scott.

Scott says the estimated $17.8 million cost for police services isn't set in stone and can be adjusted as needed, and if unincorporated residents want to see services change.

Commission chair Al Scott sounded like he was more concerned about how a new county department would affect neighboring departments.

"I worry about the fact that the impact it would have on the city of Savannah as it relates to crime statistics, but not only that, as it relates to the chief being able to have access to additional resources," said Scott.

We asked Chairman Scott if he was at all worried about the county's stand-alone department cannibalizing resources like manpower from other county municipalities.

"I do not believe that. Now I've got concerns from the sheriff about it, and his concern is he wants some sort of equity in terms of pay for his folks. And if I was the sheriff, I would be making the very same argument. And we will take a look at that over time," said Scott.

In terms resources like precincts, Scott says the County owns the Islands, Whitefield, and West Chatham precinct, so that is what the stand-alone department will work out of. He also anticipates some shared use agreements, allowing Savannah-Metro continued use of certain facilities.

Scott says ultimately, improving response times and security for the unincorporated county will be the focus.

"It will allow the county with a standalone police department to work on the concerns of the citizens of the unincorporated area. And their concern is the lack of police presence," said Scott.

?The county also plans to have an independent 911 center. Scott says services won't change for the unincorporated area citizens, and the county will be responsible for funding it.

Copyright 2017 WTOC. All rights reserved.