Savannah City Council meets for first day of annual budget retreat

Savannah City Council meets for first day of annual budget retreat

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Savannah City Council members are getting a first look at the 2021 proposed budget.

It’s the first budget the majority of Council will consider, and leading discussions for the first part of the day inside the Johnny Mercer Theater where the retreat was held was new interim City Manager, Michael Brown.

Savannah’s proposed 2021 total budget comes in around $414 million, compared to $425 million for the 2020 budget approved by the last Council.

The City’s budget and finance teams highlighted for city leaders where some of the biggest hits were this year, mainly due to the coronavirus.

Multi-million dollar drops in areas like property tax collection, general sales tax and fines and forfeitures were slightly off-set by gains in other areas.

And interim City Manager Michael Brown knows the proposed budget might not be exactly what council was hoping for.

“They’ve been presented with a workable package that can be adopted. My guess is it’s not as ambitious as they would like it to be,” said Brown.

But Brown added adjustments can be made throughout the year if needed.

“In the past we’ve pretty much said, ok, we project this for the year. Well now we almost have to go three months at a time. So when do the vaccines come, when can you get back into congregate activities...those are going to be driving the budget. Why wait for a year to figure it out,” Brown said.

Those new to Council said they appreciate the decades of experience Brown brings to the table.

Kurtis Purtee, Alderman for Savannah 6th District said, “The citizens are telling us that we have immediate needs in our infrastructure. And Mr. Brown was able to lay that ground work for us, kind of give us a history of why our drainage is the way it is, our storm water systems the way they are.”

“I just think that based on the information that he’s giving, it’s helping us, especially myself, as a new elected official on city council to be aware of just what it is that we can and should do,” said Alicia Miller-Blakely - At-Large Post 2.

Policy directions presented by Brown for the 2021 proposed budget include addressing poverty, specifically children living in poverty. Other areas of focus include income inequality, violent crime, affordable housing, blight eradication and research, measurement and engagement.

Council will meet for day two of the budget retreat tomorrow.

There will be a public budget hearing next Tuesday, an Council is set to adopt the 2021 budget on December 10th.

On the issue of violent crime, Brown said council can’t wait until budget approval time to address Savannah’s gun violence head-on.

At today’s retreat, Brown proposed dedicating half a million dollars to go toward a violence interrupter program.

Brown explained his idea is a people-based strategy that seeks to proactively curb gun violence by not only identifying those committing crimes, but also finding ways to help them out by offering things like job training and placement.

Some on Council likened it to the now-defunct Savannah Impact Program.

No decisions were made on how to fund the initiative, and Council agreed to discuss the idea at a later time.

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