SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - In an effort to add transparency to the budgeting process, the City of Savannah held a first quarter budget retreat on Thursday.
The retreat makes sure elected leaders and the public know how tax dollars are spent.
The first quarter meeting comes at the time of year when the city gets a look at 2018′s closeout - how the city’s finances finished last fiscal year. It’s important because it gives budget and finance staff - along with elected leaders - an opportunity to see how funds can be reinvested or shifted around.
The budget staff told council the 2019 budget is on track to meet goals set by city leaders. Council members got a close look at the nearly $400 million budget, and how money is coming in and going out.
“So, as a result of our FY18 year-end results, we found there were areas in which final accruals and our auditing results then brought us above that legal level of control that was over and above what we anticipated at the time of our budget projection for year-end,” said Melissa Carter, Chief Budget Officer.
For 2019, budget staff determined about $13.5 million could be shifted toward capital projects, from wage adjustments for city employees, to sidewalk repairs around the city, Hudson Hill improvements, and also to help fund the city lot relocation from the current West Gwinnett Street site.
“That’s going to be used to, again, further align the budget with the strategic plan priorities and objectives set forth by council,” Carter said.
One change that will directly affect Savannah’s residents and the services they rely on from the city is that the hiring freeze that took effect in 2018 was lifted in January.
“What does that mean to the community? That means to the community that we’re going to have the people in place, and we’ll get the resources in place to actually have real outcomes this year and meet those service levels that were appropriated in the budget,” Carter said.
Now, new Human Resources Director Jeff Grant and department staff will work to recruit the best candidates to fill not only openings in departments like police and fire, but also facets of city government with triple-digit vacancies, like infrastructure and development.
The close-out capital amendments will go to council for a vote at next week’s council meeting.
This November, Chatham County voters will vote on whether to continue SPLOST - the special purpose local options sales tax.
“People don’t really get excited about sidewalks and paving, but those are the needs that are very expensive," said Mayor Pro-Tem, Carol Bell, City of Savannah.
In a few weeks, Savannah City Council will submit their SPLOST wish list to Chatham County officials. The county is the one who allocates the SPLOST funds to the different cities.
For more on the Savannah Forward Strategic Plan, click here.