Fire fee reduction discussion continues in City of Savannah

CHATHAM CO., GA (WTOC) - "It took guts." That's what two Savannah City Council members opposed to the new fire fee told Mayor Eddie DeLoach about his announcement Wednesday about a possible fee reduction and a plan B.

Discussion of that announcement continued Thursday - this time among council members in chambers. The mayor's announcement that he'd be asking City Manager Rob Hernandez to look for ways to trim spending to allow the city to cut the fire fee in half for most was a surprise for at least one alderman.

First District Councilman Van Johnson, a staunch opponent of the fire fee, said he knew nothing about the mayor's intentions until the news conference was happening. He, along with other fire fee opponent, Tony Thomas, commented the mayor on making the move. Alderman Johnson and Alderwoman Estella Shabazz were not in favor of the proposed five percent cut of city employees - one of the mayor's suggestions to tighten things up Wednesday. Mayor DeLoach, along with Alderwoman Carol Bell, made sure the distinction was made that Wednesday's suggestions were the mayor's alone.

"He has one vote. All council has to approve whether or not we go with the fire fee, whether we go with it cut in half, and what kinds of revenues will have to be generated to support the expenses," Bell said. "I just completely reiterate, that was not Carol Bell's plan, that was not any of the others' plan, but that was the mayor's plan, and we get to weigh in on it next week when we come together."

With the fee cut in half, the city would have to make up $11.2 million, and the conversation of how to make up those funds and what cuts to make to get there is far from over. The distinction has been made that those suggestions are up for discussion at the upcoming budget retreat. When it comes to closing that gap, Hernandez says he highly recommends against using the $10 million surplus because those are one-time only dollars, and even though he commended the mayor for recognizing the public's feelings on the fire fee, there is still work that needs to be done.

"People still feel even half of a fire fee is too much and that if this means less services, then they're just being victimized in a different way, and so there's still some relief but still great dissatisfaction," Alderman Johnson said.

Council will continue the discussion and hear what options Hernandez has come up with on June 18. A vote is scheduled for the next meeting after that.

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