Controversial fire fee, budget discussed in Savannah district town hall meeting

SAVANNAH, Ga. – The clock is ticking for Savannah City Council to create and pass a balanced 2018 budget.

On Monday, neighbors got their first chance to let city leaders know their hopes and concerns surrounding City Manager Rob Hernandez’s budget proposal, released to the public last week .

Dozens took their seats inside Savannah’s Jewish Educational Alliance on Abercorn Street. The meeting was originally meant as a District 4 town hall led by Alderman Julian Miller.

After the budget proposal was released, city leaders, including other aldermen, Savannah Mayor Eddie DeLoach  and others were present as Hernandez presented to the crowd his justification increasing revenue streams.

“For every dollar I spend over here I don’t have it to spend over here,” Hernandez said.

Speaking on the city’s fire department, Hernandez painted a bleak picture citing stations and vehicles had not been updated in decades.

“It’s not the city’s fault. It’s all of our fault. We haven’t don’t a good job investing in our infrastructure,” Hernandez said.

His proposal put the city in a nearly $13 million deficit, which Hernandez refers to as “an imbalance.” One method to possible balance the budget, Hernandez suggested taking the cue from other cities, could be found through fire fee.

“All we’re doing right now with city council is exploring the concept,” Hernandez told the crowd.

While the exploration is slim on details, Alderman Miller isn’t turning down the idea.

“We haven’t gotten all the details yet, so I’m still waiting to see how all the details come out, but at first glance, I’m very supportive,” he said of the fire fee option.

The fee could potentially raise millions of dollars to help fund, or partially fund, the city’s fire department. Hernandez said by imposing a fire fee, SFD would be taken out of the city’s general fund. Ardsley Park Neighborhood President Nick Palumbo isn’t so sure on the idea, especially with a lack of concrete details and a timeline.

“So for them to force it on us prematurely, without a full roll out, really has me raising questions,” Palumbo said.

As WSAV reported earlier, some households and property owners could be set back more than $350. Hernandez did not give a specific fee cost for private and commercial properties but gave the room two clear paths.

“Tax increase or reduction of service because what goes out must equal what flows in.”

Council is set to take a budget retreat at the end of this week. The first reading of the budget is set for December 7 with the final reading and vote set for December 21.

For those who missed Monday’s meeting, District 1 Alderman Van Johnson is set to host the city’s first virtual town hall meeting at 7:30 p.m. through a Facebook Live on Johnson’s page. The town hall is open to the public to discuss the budget, fire fee, possible lay offs and de-merger of the Metro police department.


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