SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – While the Savannah Metro Police Department is a thing of the past, one local Georgia lawmaker has his sights set on consolidation once again.
Georgia State Representative Ron Stephens says his main concern is lowering taxes for voters. One way he says to do that is possible consolidating services within Chatham County and its municipalities that lie within the county boarders.
“Right now the tax payer is just being taken to the cleaners. Look at your tax bill and compare it to what it was just a few years ago,” he told News 3 on Monday. Stephens is looking to get a fresh look at how Chatham County does business.
“We’re looking way down the road but we’ve gotta start somewhere,” he said.
During the 2018 Legislative Session, Stephens is working to secure $200,000 for a state required incorporation feasibility study because of what he sees as “duplication of services.” Stephen says the possible action would be to consolidate services not entities of cities and Chatham County as a whole.
“The tax payers are footing the bill for this and it’s time to look at it. And that’s outside of the question of annexation, incorporation or consolidation,” he said.
Stephens says municipalities are not required to consolidate their services, including first responders, police departments, city managers, etc. but says those that do consolidate would be promised one major benefit.
“By consolidating services, property taxes to the individual will go down,” Stephens said.
Stephens says he’s focusing right now on the numbers that can be provided through the study before diving into more concrete details of a timeline. News 3 asked Rep. Stephens if this means a loss of jobs for the local community.
“People don’t have to worry about losing their jobs. And quite honestly, we as tax payers, property tax payers, don’t need to be in the business of trying to save people jobs,” he said.
If the funding is approved before the end of the session on March 29th, the study would take six months to complete. After the study, Stephens says, there would be a time for public feedback before it is brought back to Atlanta to vote and signed by the governor and then back to vote on a local level.
Should the funding for the county and city be approved, funding for the Islands incorporation study would also be included in the same budget measure.
WSAV reached out to the Savannah Economic Development Agency (SEDA) which says it has no plans to help cover the study costs for consolidation.
Chatham County Manager Lee Smith says he and his office were never officially informed about the study.
“We wish we had been asked,” Smith says. He says his first priorities are that if any changes are made that services would need to be improved before the focus would be on money.
He also told News 3 he is not in favor of the current consolidation conversation and says any action should originate on the local level, not the state level.
In response to that response Stephens told News 3, Smith has known about the issue for two years.