Chatham County Manager: may need to raise taxes to pay for police merger

It’s a proposed budget sure to catch the attention of many Chatham County taxpayers. County Manager Lee Smith says a tax increase will be needed if the cost sharing ratio stays the same in the police merger agreement. Smith points out “this is a worse case scenario” but one he needs to present in order to ensure he can balance the budget.

Commissioner Dean Kickligher agreed this is a worse case scenario saying “I don’t want my phone ringing off the hook because I will never agree to a tax increase.”

Smith says there will be budget hearings and that he and commissioners want to delve into a study released recently about the merger between Chatham County and the city of Savannah so they can see how consultants determined the cost sharing ratio. “We know there are errors so we think that cost ratio needs to be formulated again,” he said.

Kicklighter and several others said they didn’t think the study had gone far enough to tell Chatham County what it needs to know in terms of response times and numbers of officers needed for example.  “It just did not come back remotely close,” said Kicklighter. “We don’t even have that number of officers that we just need patrolling the unincorporated areas and if we had that it would be millions less and there would be no tax increase.”

“I won’t say the study is worthless, but it’s close to it,” said Chairman Al Scott.

Smith has proposed an increase in the mill levy of 1.6 (which translates into $1.60 per every $1,000 of valuation on a home. So if your home is worth $100,000 for example, the tax increase would be $160)

“The 1.6 mills is to pay back, it would be $4.9 million going back over the last 24 months.” said Smith. “The $2.6 million is going forward and that would be effective July 1, but that all depends on negotiations going forward between the city and the county.”

Smith knows it’s sure to create concerns but says whether the cost ratio stays the same is dependent upon commissioners and the city of Savannah. Meanwhile he knows commissioners have constituents with legitimate concerns. “It’s been said by (many in) the unincorporated area for a long time that they don’t think they get the coverage, i.e. the community policing,” said Smith. “Commissioners have constituents who have demands and (commissioners) are looking at what those demands are and also how cost effective is it.”

“Do I expect that you will have this increase? I don’t know,” said Smith.”You have heard from commissioners who want to hold a meeting with the consultant and with staff to go over that study.”

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