Fire Fee aid not included in $10 million City of Savannah budget surplus

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Back on Thursday's Savannah City Council agenda for a final vote was what to do with $10 million extra.

Council discussed tweaking City Manager Rob Hernandez's suggestions during the last meeting and put those changes to a vote Thursday. Not everyone was on board with the changes, wanting to take a different route altogether.

Motions from Alderman Tony Thomas to repeal the fire fee altogether, as well as a motion to allocate $35,000 a youth summer basketball league this summer by Alderman Van Johnson, were shot down. There was also a proposal to take $5 million of the $10 million surplus and put it toward a fire fee relief effort to help lower-income families.

The Savannah Alliance of Pastors, present at Thursday's meeting, also expressed their disappointment with the city's recommendations for the surplus money.

"We can no longer sit quietly as pastors and not speak out for those who are the least, last, and those who feel left out in this community," said Da'Henri Thurmond, Pastor of the St. Paul CME Church. "This money could be used to offset the proposed fire fee for residents and churches, who live under constant financial stress."

City Council took a step back and looked to Hernandez, who conceived the fire fee.

"I really don't know," Hernandez answered. "I think we can work through it. Just like anything else, it would be a budget adjustment. We've never done a fire fee before so there's a learning curve for us."

Council estimated an average of $55 in savings for each household if this was approved, but Mayor Eddie DeLoach defended the city manager's long-term thinking and strategy by putting the money toward things that would cut the city's debt load and improve operations that taxpayers benefit from.

The vote for the budget amendment passed with only two votes against - from Alderman Thomas and Alderman Johnson.

The city is moving forward with the fire fee and its current cost, but are accepting applications for discounts.

If you have questions about the Fire Fee Discount Program you can Email or call 912.525.2810.

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