For a long time now Chatham County Commissioner Dean Kicklighter has made it clear he’s not been a fan of the merger that combined the County police department with that of the city of Savannah. He’s complained mostly about the cost levied to county taxpayers, saying they pay too much for the police services and police presence they actually receive. Because the unincorporated residents don’t need the merger, the city of Savannah needs the merger,” he told us.
Friday, he reacted to word the Savannah City Council had called the County’s latest bluff in terms of costs associated with the merger. (The County was being told it owed $7 million for costs associated with police coverage but County officials disputed a study that set up that cost ratio.)
The City Council voted to to end the merger, going back to the days before 2004 to a separate County and City police department. Kicklighter wasn’t exactly disappointed but still showed irritation. “I believe the city of Savannah possibly made the biggest, most ignorant mistake in the history of Savannah politics,” he told us.
Kicklighter says the higher crime rate in Savannah has been officially diluted because it has been combined with the lower crime rate in the unincorporated area. He says ending the consolidation will also end that and Savannah will show up with a higher crime rate, not so good for national consideration, i.e. visitors. “Their move today could very well destroy tourism in Savannah because this (the overall lower crime rate) will have be gone.”
Kicklighter says if necessary, he believes the County can form its own department again. Chatham County Sheriff John Wilcher says if asked, he’ll do what he can to help make it happen. “If they come to me and want me to do it as I’ve said many many times as I’m here to serve you the people,” said the sheriff.
Wilcher says a new County department could be formed and says his chief deputy actually worked for the County police department so Wilcher would solicit his help. “It could be done in six months,” said Wilcher. ” You would have to start from square one, you’d have to organize your department such as detective, patrol, homicide, robbery, Swat Team and a number of things you would have to organize.”
Wilcher says in 2004 when the merger began, County police had about 145 employees at a cost of $13 million annually. Now he says the cost would likely be at least $15.5 million and he anticipates that more employees might be needed.
And while City Council members may not care about Kicklighter’s opinion, he still offered it. Either way you cut it, the Savannah mayor and city council messed up really bad today,” said Kicklighter.