On Friday, Dec. 18, the Savannah City Council passed a balanced 2021 budget that does not include any tax increases, fee increases, layoffs or furloughs.
The 2021 budget lists six policy priority areas:
- Poverty, especially childhood poverty
- Income inequality
- Violent crimes, including homicides and gun offenses
- Affordable housing
- Blight eradication
- Research, measurement and citizen engagement
The city will be working in 2021 to address these focus areas through new and existing programs and partnerships. The city will highlight these initiatives throughout the year.
Poverty, Especially Childhood Poverty
More than 30,000 people in Savannah, including 9,706 children, live in poverty. Several neighborhoods and census tracts have had high rates of poverty for generations.
The city previously implemented a comprehensive anti-poverty initiative based on data and direct dialogue with families in poverty. Step Up Savannah and other programs have data and working programs, so the city can focus efforts toward helping the most at-risk families and children in the most-distressed, high-priority census tracts.
Savannah has historically been a city of economic extremes – home to wealthy residents in high-income occupations and residents with very low incomes. The vibrant economy of our county and region often bypasses the city’s low-wage earners. More than 38 percent of the workforce residing in the city works in hospitality, retail, and health care sectors that persistently pay lower wages.
Violent Crimes, including Homicides and Gun Offenses
Over the past five years, the city has reduced overall “Part 1” crime, especially property crime. However, we continue to have many murders involving guns: 20 in 2019, 24 in 2018, 26 in 2017 and 39 in 2016.
The 2021 budget will structurally re-establish the Savannah Impact Program by utilizing a violence interruption concept that has proved helpful in other cities in reducing violent and often gang-related crime. The Savannah Impact Program addressed the 600 most at-risk offenders in the community through parole, adult probation and juvenile probation. The program required drug and alcohol treatment, behavioral training and Moral Reconation Therapy, GED classes, sexual behavior modification, mandatory home visits and some street-level violence intervention.
The need for affordable housing in Savannah is far greater than the current supply. There are now 22,500 households in our community in need of quality, affordable housing. HUD defines affordable housing as housing that costs no more than 30 percent of gross household income. In Savannah, this means households making less than $41,093 annually – the median annual household income in Savannah – are cost-burdened when monthly rent exceeds about $1,000 or the purchase price of a home exceeds $135,360. Over the past 30 years, the rate of increase in housing costs has outpaced income growth by a 2-to-1 margin in Savannah. Today, 42 percent of our households are cost-burdened.
Over the past 20 years, the city has replaced several thousand aging, low-quality public, private, multifamily and single-family housing developments. City and private sector partnerships have created high-quality housing redevelopment and new housing and must continue to expand affordable housing availability.
Savannah has blighted conditions in many of our neighborhoods. They often include litter, debris, derelict vehicles, vacant and dilapidated structures, substandard structures and criminality.
In 2019, the city documented every abandoned, blighted property in this historic city and discovered annually drain approximately $1,300 of public funds each. According to U.S. Census data, Savannah has about 4,286 vacant dwellings, likely blighted and abandoned, costing taxpayers millions of dollars annually.
In November 2019, voters approved the use of $10 million in special-purpose local-option sales tax (SPLOST) funds to acquire and redevelop at least 1,000 abandoned, blighted residential properties over the next 10 years. The goal is to effect meaningful change in neighborhoods long neglected or exploited by profit-driven investors.
Research, Measurement, and Engagement
Efficient and effective actions to address these inequities and unacceptable conditions depend upon knowledge, research, measurement and citizen engagement. The city must commit to the fact-based, best-practice measurement of outcomes and must engage with citizens. The city must respect citizen concerns and rights while protecting the common good.
You can find additional details and information at savannahga.gov/budget.