Savannah City Council discussing budget issues at 2-day retreat

Savannah City Council discussing budget issues at 2-day retreat

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Savannah City Council and staff members dove into the preliminary fiscal year 2018 budget on Thursday.

City Manager Rob Hernandez walked council through options to address a nearly $13 million imbalance in the general fund that he attributes to a shortfall last year and a reliance on reserve funds.

Hernandez has said that the preliminary budget is not his recommended budget, nor a proposal. It's simply a by-the-numbers look at ways to create a balance in the general fund.

City leaders are once again saying the county isn't paying their fair share. They believe the county should chip in for certain services, including policing the unincorporated areas, E-911, and public safety communications, homeless services, cultural arts, and social services.

"Everybody in my community is a county resident. Everybody in Pooler is a county resident, so why not make it a county issue and support a general fund initiative to do those items that are important for the entire community, but that's a call that the county has to make," said Mayor Eddie DeLoach, City of Savannah.

This goes back to the very reason why state lawmakers are pushing the state of Georgia to fund a study that will look at consolidating both city and county governments. A merged government would not only save tax dollars but it will completely eliminate the argument of who should fund what.

There is still no decision on the implementation of a fire fee in the city of Savannah. This comes after at least some direction was expected to come out of the city council's first day of the 2017 Budget Retreat.

Council weighed a couple of options for the proposed fee, looking at one that could cost households on average of about $200 a year, and the other about $300 a year. With that proposed fire fee would come a millage rate decrease of either a point or two to soften the blow of a brand new fee. Again, the fee would help fund or fully fund a fire department with an annual budget of around $30 million. Understanding the fire fee would be too much for some families, city staff and council members proposed establishing a fund of about a half million dollars to help out low-income families.

"Our thought process right now coming into this meeting was that we would set aside $500,000 because that would more than cover the 1200 or so low-income households that the census says we have. That would more than cover the fire fee at a $370 rate," City Manager Rob Hernandez said.

"I think everybody wants to do something for folks who can't afford the issue, so I think it's something that we can look it, and I think it'll move forward with it," said Mayor DeLoach.

"We're going to supplement those individuals from the general fund to the tune of about a half a million dollars, and it will be case by case," said District 3 Alderman, John Hall. "We've identified 175-180 people who probably cannot afford it."

The discussion will start back up on Friday morning, and we'll be right there to bring you the latest.

Copyright 2017 WTOC. All rights reserved.