On Monday Elise Williamson who lives in West Savannah did what she often does about noontime. She went to the Moses Jackson Community Center to see other senior citizens and eat a hot meal. The meal is offered for free and like many older people on a fixed income, Williamson not only enjoys the food but the company. And some of the talk at the table turned to the city of Savannah budget and the new proposed fire fee or as Williamson calls it a “new tax.”
“But we don’t have the money for that,’ she told me. “Look around at all these seniors, no one is working.”
Williamson, who is 75, says she worries about being able to pay for food and medicine.
“Hey, my prescription drugs have gone up since last year,” she told me.
She says she doesn’t have the extra income to pay the fire fee–which if approved officially, would be $240. (The City says most people could get a 20 percent discount which would lower that to less than $200. In addition, the city plans to set up a fund to help some low income people pay the fee.)
Still, Williamson worries she might be expected to pay say $100 and says she understands that “firefighters have to get paid but the City should find another way.”
Still, last week after two days of budget sessions, city council members couldn’t find a scenario to balance the budget, restore anticipated cuts and move forward on a plan to get more money for the fire department – without including a fire fee in the mix. One thing they did do was indicate that the fee which was first anticipated to be as high as $370 should be lowered to the $240.
Ronald Williams from the West Savannah Community Organization says he doubts that most communities favor the fire tax.”
Williams says many who live in West Savannah for example would probably use $200 or a little more (if they had the extra money) to do small repairs on their own homes. He’s concerned that many seniors will be harmed by the tax which District 1 Alderman Van Johnson has called “regressive” because it’s the same for everyone, regardless of income or the value of one’s property.
Williams also told us the tax may not just hurt seniors but people of all ages who rent. ” A lot of people don’t have decent jobs now and they are working to pay rent and bills. So with this fire fee, the landlord will probably pass that on to the renter,” he said.
And Elise Williamson still says the city should find another plan. “I’m not with the government so I don’t know what else they should do but they need to find this money someplace else,” she told us.
The fee and the budget by the way have yet to be officially approved. The first budget hearing is Thursday, December 7