For Immediate Release
Date: November 13, 2014
Savannah City Council wrapped up its Budget Retreat on Thursday after a two-day review of City Manager Stephanie Cutter’s proposed 2015 Budget. The proposed $347.5 million overall budget includes a $180.8 million General Fund, and is fully balanced without a tax increase.
It implements significant customer service improvements and an aggressive building campaign. Council questioned nearly a dozen City staffers who walked them through the draft spending plan.
“The 2015 Budget builds upon our successes of the past and looks to provide for the future needs of our citizens,” Cutter said. “It provides the financial and operating plan to expand critical services and infrastructure to our citizens and businesses while maintaining the City’s healthy financial position.”
Among the highlights of the proposed 2015 Budget:
• No increase in the property tax rate is being proposed. The proposed rate of 12.48 mills maintains the lowest property tax rate in the City of Savannah since 1987, and represents a 28% reduction in the property tax rate over the past 17 years.
• 2014 General Fund revenues are projected to come in 2% higher than what was budgeted this year due to higher than expected sales tax and property tax collections. This, combined with a nearly $1 million savings realized through across-the-board expenditure reductions, means that the City will not have to draw $4.4 million from its sales tax stabilization fund as was budgeted this year.
• The City will adopt an estimated $259 million in capital projects in 2015, including planning for a new SPLOST-funded arena and construction of a $27 million upgrade to the President Street Wastewater Treatment Plant to change the way bio-solids are processed.
• The 2015 Budget does not draw from the City’s two General Fund reserve funds – the fund balance and the sales tax stabilization fund -- maintaining those unrestricted funds at 21.4% of expenditures. That’s a healthier reserve fund than national government finance recommendations. The strong reserve fund is also one of the reasons the City’s bond rating was upgraded to AA+ last year, which has helped Savannah save more than $2.5 million this year through lower interest rates.
• New programs in 2015 will focus on improving customer service across the organization for residents and businesses; create an internship program to better utilize local higher education students; develop an employee retention and development program to better train and retain employees; and implement a 2.5% general wage increase to be more competitive with the private sector.
• Fourteen firefighter positions will be added to staff a new fire company in the Bradley Pointe area on Savannah’s southside. The addition will help Savannah Fire maintain its ISO 1 classification – the highest national rating available, achieved by just 61 of 48,000 fire departments across the nation. This ISO upgrade means Savannah has one of the best trained and equipped fire departments in the nation, and should mean lower property insurance rates for residents and business owners.
• Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department’s proposed $70.7 million budget includes funding for a new intensive monitoring public safety initiative called Operation Ceasefire, body cameras for all patrol officers, and deployment of new technology called ShotSpotter, which will help police target gunshots in the community.
• The residential sanitation rate – which pays for curbside garbage, recycling, yard waste and bulk item collections and disposal – is proposed to increase $1.50 per month, to $30.50 per month in 2015. The increase is needed to pay for a $17 million expansion of the City’s landfill, a multi-year project expected to begin in 2015.
• Combined average water and sewer bills in Savannah remain 41% below the national average, and among the lowest of any water system in the Southeast, according to a survey conducted by the American Water Works Association. A proposed increase in consumption charges in 2015 would increase the average household bill by $1.50 per month. This increase will help fund an expected $163.4 million in water and sewer infrastructure improvements over the next five years needed to meet new restrictions on waste water discharge and groundwater withdrawals.
The City Manager will take feedback received from Council during the retreat and make revisions. First reading and public hearing is scheduled for Nov. 25. Second Reading and adoption is tentatively scheduled for Dec. 11.
The 2015 Proposed Budget can be viewed at www.savannahga.gov/budget