One year on the job: Savannah’s city manager on current and upcoming projects
SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - One year on the job — Savannah’s City Manager Jay Melder marked that anniversary this month.
“Being a part of the community has been incredibly rewarding,” he said.
Jay Melder is still standing by three key focuses he told WTOC this time last year when he started: affordable housing, crime and homelessness.
His permanency in this position has been a relief for the city and there’s a lot he’s working on to follow through.
He started last September.
The city struggled to fill the position in the past. Now, Melder is focusing on some key priorities, including affordable housing.
“We’re going to be at 11 billion people by the end of this century and that’s going to require millions of square feet in housing and we’re going to need to build some in Savannah to meet our needs...so yes, we need more housing stock and we need more affordable housing stock,” Jay Melder said.
Out of a $19.1 million dollar budget, city council was able to invest $7 million into the affordable housing fund.
“What people need to understand is that for every $1 we invest, we can leverage 7 more in the private market to build and develop and preserve affordable housing.”
That’s the solution according to Melder and why council approved building affordable Dundee cottages weeks ago.
Another housing concern surrounds Yamacraw village.
It’s one of the city’s oldest public housing complexes and it’s facing possible demolition.
Yamacraw is the housing authority’s jurisdiction, but the city has some stake now with their purchase of some of the land to widen the Springfield Canal.
The city manager said: “Ultimately, we need to make sure that for the families who are living in Yamacraw now and in the future that we have safe, dignified affordable housing for them.”
Outside of affordable housing, under the city manager, Savannah has made strides with public safety — raising pay for police officers and firefighters.
Melder said: “We created a lateral entry program. First of its kind in Savannah, which means if you’re an officer in another jurisdiction and you like what’s going on in Savannah because we pay pretty good we’ve got interesting stuff going on then you can come in and get paid for your experience.”
Also, the city created the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement to take a community approach to crime, “It’s about making sure we’re connecting most with people who are most at risk of being a victim of violent crime or perpetrating violent crime and often they’re the same individuals.”
All in all, a lot of steps are being taken and there’s more work that continues. That’s why a unified council was another main priority for the city manager knowing their history of being divided.
“There are differences in opinions on how we address things and when but you’re gonna have that anywhere. But I think that for the issues of public safety, homelessness, affordable housing, storm water, street and traffic safety....all 9 members are behind those efforts.”
The city manager also gave an update on where a few projects and priorities stand. There’s only a couple of months left for a search for the new police chief if the city wants to stay on their projected timeline.
“Every project needs a timeline. We’re gonna be focused on the most important outcome, making sure we’ve got the right chief for Savannah.”
The city manager said the Broughton streetscapes construction project will hopefully be over before the holiday season.
Applications are also still open for the special assistant U.S. attorney position.
Melder said he’s loved his time here in the city and working with Team Savannah to make it better.
“We serve hard. We go out and serve hard and everyday we focus on getting back to the basics.”
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