Savannah City Council incorporating fire fee into budget

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - The Savannah fire fee discussion continued Thursday as council members reviewed the proposed 2018 budget.

The total proposed budget for 2018 comes to more than $408 million, but leaders only decide where to spend about half of that price tag. The numbers have changed since city staff took council's priority recommendations from last week's budget.

The money generated by the fire fee would drum up $14.6 million - $7.4 million going toward restoring services that would have been cut in the preliminary budget. $7.2 million would go toward enhancing services.

During the reading, the public got to offer their feedback and share any concerns.

"I would ask that you go back into your budget and add some type of money for teens, pre-teens, and adults," said Alicia Blakey.

Even though services from public safety to neighborhood revitalization have been identified and prioritized, items could still be up for debate and chosen or put on hold in sort of an 'a la cart' method.

"The fact is, ultimately, you have to have five individuals to agree on a particular item in order for things to move forward," said Alderman Van Johnson, District 1.

"The fact is, we have a limited amount of revenue. We've got to keep the general fund balance in place, so that was one of my requests today as we put more back in the contingency fund if we have another hurricane," said Brian Foster, Alderman Post 2 At-large.

A lot of the same issues came up for those opposed to the fire fee. For those in favor, they discussed how that revenue stream would help fund and enhance city services otherwise cut.

City staff was instructed to move forward with incorporating a fire fee into the budget formulating process after last week's budget retreat workshop, but still, council members opposed to the fee last week shared the same sentiments in Thursday's meeting.

"I don't think that we should have a fire tax. I think that it's regressive. I really think it affects those it should not affect," said Alderman Van Johnson, District 1. "Again, I agree with the fire fee in concept. In terms of implementing it for this year, this year's budget, I still remain against it. However, while we're having that discussion, because I realize I might be on the losing end of this, I want to make sure the things we say are important are being funded accordingly, and right now, some of those's not happening."

Staff working on the budget say all of the items - from public safety to poverty reduction - are items that help the city hit benchmarks moving toward their adopted strategic plan.

"If all the things that are on our proposed budget get passed, it would be a foolish thing for anybody not to vote for the fire fee because they have put money there that they cannot cover, and a balanced budget. So, if they got a place they can find it out of their pocket, I don't have it," Mayor Eddie DeLoach said.

"We are looking at five years down the road. It's very important, and part of what this plan does is it maintains that reserve fund that is so important to our future," said Alderman Brian Foster, Post 2 At-large.

Again, the fire fee hits all buildings that could need fire services. That includes local government and federal property. The city will pay $365,000 to cover the fee for all of the property they own.

Council still needs to change the city charter to be able to collect that fire fee.

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