If the fire fee is taken off the table, city officials say they - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

If the fire fee is taken off the table, city officials say they must consider what to cut

(Source: WTOC) (Source: WTOC)

Savannah City Council has made a new plan to fund the fire department without the need for the controversial fire fee.

The new plan still needs to be voted on and approved at the next Savannah City Council meeting on Thursday to become official.

If they pass this new plan, city leaders will have to decide what items and/or jobs to make up a $16 million difference.

Timing is crucial with this decision because the city's millage rate has to be set up by the end of the month. City Manager Rob Hernandez and staff came up with and presented council with several options at Monday's meeting, and will be taking a combination of line items from two of those options to find the money needed to budget without a fire fee this year. To get there, the millage rate could stay where it is and not roll back one mill, and capital improvement projects and software upgrades could be reduced and put on hold. Those are all options council will now have to figure out and vote on soon. 

"We as a council and mayor have to come up with a decision that says we are going to try to do this, this year, and postpone or extend, something like that, the other items that we feel we need to and set it up like that. I think this will have to be a rolling budget for us the next couple of years, or for the next two years at least," Mayor Eddie DeLoach said. 

One of the items that could be on the chopping block is a revitalization project on Waters Avenue.

Alex Bender with LEX Apparel on Waters Avenue said, "There's a lot of opportunity for businesses to come into this corridor but you're not going to attract businesses to an area like this when it's neglected or not given its proper amount of attention."

"In my opinion, it sends a clear message to not only business owners like myself, but to residents in this area that this just isn't as important to them," said Vann-Ellison Seales, 13-Bricks, Savannah. "And that's unfortunate because I see a lot of potential in Waters Avenue. I see a lot of signs that residents are ready for growth."

Other potential cuts could include: 

  • not going forward with a proposed millage rate rollback ($5.2 million)
  • recognizing additional growth in tax digest for FY18 ($2.3 million)
  • charging SPLOST 6 for program management costs ($2.14 million)
  • reducing Savannah Shines capital investment ($1.06 million)
  • delaying budget software replacement ($700,000)
  • shifting Joe Tribble Park improvements ($410,000)
  • eliminating Savannah Renaissance Project ($1 million)
  • delaying  the purchase and implementation of code compliance software upgrade ($453,000)
  • delaying Benton Blvd-Spring Lakes intersection improvements ($700,000)

"I think that gives us time to look at next year with a better-educated eye," said Alderman Brian Foster, At-large Post 2. "Because, who knows if we all come back with a fire fee again, but I think right now it's just off the table. The city has told us that they're not comfortable with it, so we understand that, and we realized we have some things that we have to learn, and so I think that we don't do it."

Monday's meeting was also the first time council was together since the news that Hernandez was being considered for a job in Texas. Councilwoman Estella Shabazz said during the meeting that she hopes he sticks around and that he's doing a great job, sentiments that drew a round of applause from the rest of council and city staff. 

DeLoach called for a cut to the fire fee earlier this month.

DeLoach asked the council to consider cutting the fire fee in half. If halved, a single-family household living within the city would go from paying around $250 a year to around $120. But, when the mayor made that consideration, he also added that the city would have to do without some of its future programs or even some city employees.

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