School board fired up over proposed Savannah fire fee

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - The City of Savannah's proposed fire fee could impact the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System.

The city is proposing a reduction in the millage rate to offset the financial burden of the fire fee, but the irony is, the school board may be forced to raise the millage rate just to pay for their share of the fire fee.

The city estimates the fire fee will cost the school board between $400-700,000 for 83 locations. That comes to an average of about $4 and $8 thousand per location, but some larger buildings could cost the district upwards of $20,000.

Wednesday night was the first time the school board was presented with the heavy bill the fire fee would impose if passed. A set solution has not been decided, but some board members say they're not going to take anything away from the kids to foot the bill, so raising taxes might be their best option.

"Why is it that other governmental agencies are having to pay for something because the city of Savannah cannot balance their own books, so we're having to pick up the tab," asked Michael Johnson, SCCPSS, District 7.

Savannah-Chatham County Public School board members told the city how they really feel about the proposed fee.

"We have not required a millage increase. In fact, we are trying our best to rill back our millage rate," said Melissa Carter, Savannah Director of Research and Budget.

The school board says 'not really.' Should the fire fee pass, the county might have to turn around and raise rates on their end.

"You may have had a tax cut from the city, but guess what? Now, the school board has to increase your taxes," said Julie Wade, SCCPSS, District 1. "The city is saying we're going to decrease our millage rate by one percent. Well, that's fantastic, but they're passing the bug and shifting the tax burden onto us, so that means we're going to have to raise the millage rate."

Some board members say pulling from the arts and other educational programs is just not an option. The school system, kids, and education is what needs funding.

"So, why would we want to be like, 'Yes, let's go ahead and give the city $400,000 plus when we could take that $400,000 and put it in the classroom," Wade said.

Some board members say we need to look at the big picture.

"If we're going to be a progressive city, then we're going to have to look at what it takes to be a progressive city," said Cornelia Hall, SCCPSS, District 3.

The city is having their first reading of the budget on Thursday. The second reading will be Dec. 21. Once the city votes on the fire fee, then the school board will have to decide what they're going to do next.

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