City of Savannah facing $12.9 million shortfall in preliminary 2018 budget

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Savanah's city manager presented the 2018 preliminary budget to city council on Tuesday, including a $12.9 million deficit.

Rob Hernandez painted a very clear picture of what will happen if council does not find new sources of revenue. This preliminary budget does not include the recently proposed fire fee.

Tuesday, staff presented the nearly 140-page document to the council to look over, and the city manager broke it down in a nine-page overview. In that overview, Savannah City Manager Rob Hernandez says in part,

'...It should be a surprise to no one that the City's FY18 Preliminary General Fund Budget is imbalanced, given last year's shortfall and reliance on reserve funds."

Hernandez says in the letter that in the past, recurring imbalances were usually resolved by staff before the presentation to council.

"That approach is no longer feasible given the growing gap between revenues and expenditures and its effect upon services and staff, as well as a desire on behalf of my administration for full transparency with the council and the public.'

To shore up the shortfalls for fiscal year 2018, fees for summer camps, cemeteries, athletic field uses, right-of-way encroachment, and liquor, beer, and wine tax would all go up. In addition, more than 200 jobs would have to be cut, a three-percent wage increase would get scrapped, 30 firefighter positions would be gone, and there would be a hiring freeze - that is if the city council doesn't find other ways to make up the difference. Alderman Van Johnson says this is a lot to digest late in the year, and council needs to be able to take their time with making such impactful decisions.

"I think we are able to amend our budget as many times as we need to during the year. We have not looked at the impact of major properties coming into the roll, such as Memorial. That will be a major influx of tax revenue. We haven't even considered the impact of that," Johnson said. "I don't want to lay off people. I mean, the fact of the matter is you don't help poverty by putting your employees in poverty by laying them off. I believe there are a variety of things that we have not even discussed."

Now, the ball is in the court of city council, now tasked with going through hundreds of pages this Thanksgiving weekend.

"It is not the proposed budget or the recommended budget necessarily of the city manager, but it is now the job of the mayor and council to take a look at this preliminary budget over the long weekend, come back next on Nov. 30 at the retreat, and start hashing out these numbers and come up with a balanced budget," said Michelle Gavin, City of Savannah.

Not everyone on council agrees with the timing or solutions presented in previous council meetings to shore up the deficit.

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