Chatham County Commission approves budget after contentious discussion on policing

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Chatham County Commissioners approve a budget on a vote of 6 to 3 for the new fiscal year that approves a tax increase for unincorporated areas, but only about half of what had been earlier recommended.

The mill levy will increase by less than one mill to 4.99 mills. (The increase is .86 mills)  Chairman Al Scott says on a $250,000 home the increase per year is $75 or about six dollars per month.

Last month, county administrative staff had proposed an increase saying the extra money would be needed to pay for millions of extra costs for police services.

The .86 mill increase will raise about an additional $4 million and about $800,000 will go to replenish reserves.  But the majority will pay for some issues around policing, including already approved police raises and the cost of body cameras.

Scott says approval of the budget does not signal that the county approves of a new police study on the merger of Savannah and Chatham County police departments or the cost sharing formulas in that study.

He said moving forward on the budget still gives the county the opportunity to object to the cost-sharing formula and try to negotiate a better deal.

Commissioner Dean Kicklighter, a long-standing critic of the police merger, said he would not approve a tax increase because county taxpayers were being raked over the coals by the merged department.

“Basically what happened here is a skinny kid moved in with a huge, fat Sumo wrestler,” said Kicklighter. “And the skinny kid’s grocery bill went up 115 percent and the fat Sumo wrestler’s only went up 40 percent.”

He said the unincorporated area does not get the coverage or response times it deserves for the cost many in the county are paying.

Commissioners Pat Ferrell and Helen Stone also objected.

“You’ve got to ask the question how do you justify this?” asked Pat Farrell, District 4. “To me it’s not fair or just.”

However, Chair Al Scott said the County’s bill has not gone up 115 percent. He says that the additional funds will pay for things like police salaries and body cams which the county already approved.

In terms of the future, he says the county will phase in funding for police services.

Scott says he still believes negotiations with the city on a better cost sharing formula for the county are possible.

“Half of my constituents are in the city of Savannah,” said Scott. “I try to come up with something I think will be fair and just for everybody.”

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