SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Georgia's state representatives are getting ready for the 2017 Legislative Session at the State Capitol. Many of our local reps met with city leaders on Tuesday about Savannah's top priorities and concerns this year.
The city has had a lot of issues, but city council members managed to narrow them down to a list of just six items. This list includes addressing the on-going blight issues, dramatic increases to commercial property taxes, improving transparency with the Pardons and Parole Board, ID cards for parolees, reinstating the law that allows law enforcement agencies to destroy weapons and drainage improvements.
It's important to remember that these issues are also competing against all the other cities across Georgia. There's a good chance some of these items will not be addressed, but Savannah's mayor left Tuesday's meeting in good spirits.
"They understand what we are trying to do and they feel good about what those items are, so I feel like we'll have a good opportunity to make some of those things happen," said Savannah Mayor Eddie DeLoach.
Law enforcement used to have the option to destroy guns they confiscated from criminals - but now they are required to sell them to licensed dealers. The change happened back in 2012, and city leaders fear these guns will once again end up in the wrong hands. Alderman Van Johnson showed state representatives the guns that have been collected so far from the community buy-back program. City leaders are asking the law to be changed so that local jurisdictions have the option of destroying *or* selling weapons at auction. Despite the city's efforts in making this a top priority, Rep. Ron Stephens says not to get your hopes up.
"As far as the NRA, I'm sure they'll step up to the plate and have some opposition…just in perception," said Rep. Stephens, R-164.
There's no doubt that the city is riddled with blighted properties, but officials say the law is actually protecting those properties.
Officials tell me there are hundreds of properties throughout Savannah, many of which are abandoned. While the city can acquire that property through eminent domain, by law they must hold onto that property for 20 years for the purpose of clearing the title.
This is part of the Landowner's Bill of Rights and Private Property Protection Act that was passed in 2006. The city is asking the state to reduce the 20-year mandate because it's slowing down the city's ability to abandoned homes and reduce the blight.
"You can do eminent domain but you have to wait 20 years before you can sell the property. We need to be able to turn that property around immediately," said Mayor DeLoach.
"We've got to find some way to allow the city to come in and take over these blighted properties because everybody knows there's a direct link between crime and blighted properties," said Rep. Ron Stephens.