City Hall Notebook: Savannah council approves fire equipment, briefed on legislative agenda

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Credit: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News

Credit: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News

New equipment will soon be on the way for the Savannah Fire Department. Savannah City Council on Tuesday gave the green light to purchase of three new fire trucks to replace the department's current trucks, which are reaching their end-of-service life.

The three new trucks, also known as fire pumpers, will be purchased from Sutphen Corporation at a cost $2 million, which was identified within the SPLOST VII fund proposed for the FY2021-2022 budget.

According to the documents presented to council on Tuesday, fire trucks are typically ordered in the prior year to be delivered in the replacement year set by the Fleet Services Department, but due to production setbacks, the trucks ordered now will be delivered in 14-16 months.

The city expects the trucks to be delivered in late 2022 or early 2023 and no payments will be required by the city until delivery of the trucks.

Council also approved a $546,559 contract with Savannah-based EMC Engineering Inc. for phase one design of the Savannah Springfield Canal. The funding will come from the city's general fund, SPLOST IV, and SPLOST VII.

The initial work will be the first steps toward upgrades that will provide 100-year storm conveyance to the Savannah River outfall. The first phase will include widening the 100-foot bottom width from the railroad bridge crossing north of the new Enamarket Arena site at 620 Stiles Ave. to the Highway 17 south on-ramp from Louisville Road.

Among other work in phase one: topographic site surveying and various soil testing, creation of a floodplain mitigation detention pond/wetland park, and relocation of aerial utility crossings.

Nearly $900,000 in purchases for the new arena were also approved by council this week. All approved expenditures were included in the project budget.

The purchases encompassed 22 food service carts or kiosks from Stafford-Smith, Inc. for $530,204; playground equipment from Great Southern Recreation for $297,313 and 115 Motorola handheld radios from Mobile Communications America for $69,015.

Legislative priorities 

During Tuesday's workshop, which was held prior to the regular meeting, council members were briefed on the city's 2022 state legislative agenda. Following the presentation each council member received a survey to prioritize the items.

The final legislative agenda will be on the Dec. 9 agenda for adoption by council. The Georgia Legislative Session will begin on Jan. 10, 2022.

Items on the draft legislative agenda include:

Clarity to the Taxpayer Bill of Rights advertisement: The Taxpayer Bill of Rights is designed to notify the public that the overall tax digest has increased in value. Current wording of the notice fails to differentiate the difference between increased millage rates and increased assessed value, which can cause confusion for the public.

Earlier this year council voted to maintain the 2021 millage rate of 12.739 mills, but because the city's property tax digest had grown by 2.73% and the 12.739 mills will produce more total revenue, the city was required to advertise the rate as a tax increase.

Confiscated weapons: State law currently requires local governments to auction off confiscated weapons, but the city, as they have before, will lobby for a change to the law that would give local governments the option to destroy weapons if they choose.

Hotel/motel tax: For the second year in a row, the city has it's sights set on increasing the hotel/motel tax. Current tax is 6%, but council can adopt a resolution requesting the Georgia General Assembly allow a 2% bump in Savannah's hotel/motel tax. The resolution would need the full support of the Chatham County legislative delegation.

Should the increase pass, Georgia state law dictates that the increased funds be used on tourism-related projects including, but not limited to, parks and trails, arenas, museums and information centers.

Local control of monuments: The city of Savannah currently has a robust and public process when it comes to the erection of monuments and statues, but state restrictions on war memorial relocations in 2019 has muddied the process.

A the center of the issue is the possible removal and relocation of the busts of Confederate officers Francis Stebbins Bartow and LaFayette McLaws that are part of the Civil War Memorial in Forsyth Park.

A 2017 city-formed task force recommended that the busts be relocated and council agreed, but the process stalled because of state law. Earlier this year former City Manager Michael Brown issued a memo, which called for the city to move forward with the task force's recommendations.

Logistics Technology Corridor: First established in 2018 to help grow the city's place in the technology industry and increase investment, the Savannah Logistics Technology Corridor creates a geographically defined area where businesses can locate and be close enough to each other to encourage collaboration and innovation.

The city will petition the state to adopt economic incentives such as logistical technology job training and an innovation center to enhance the corridor.

Savannah Development and Renewal Authority: Created in 1992 by the Georgia General Assembly, the Savannah Development and Renewal Authority is an independent public development authority. The current board is required to have 25 members, which often makes it difficult to have a quorum.

The Authority is asking the city to petition the state to lower the number of required board members from 25 to 17.

Workforce housing initiatives: The city will lobby the state for the ability to have longer lease terms for land, which could help lower the cost of housing. Currently the state only allows two five-year terms. Expansion of state Enterprise Zones to include an option that provides incentives for workforce housing is also on the agenda, along with lobbying for a mechanism allowing the city to access Housing Opportunity Bonds. The bonds can be used for rental and homelessness assistance. Atlanta is currently the only city that has a financing mechanism to issue the bonds.

Local controls: The city will continue to lobby against any changes that could restrict local existing laws and policies, namely the city's abandoned shopping cart ordinance, short-term vacation rentals and minimum wage.

Advocacy items: Although they might not be under municipal authorization, the city will advocate for anti-gentrification policies, rent control management and sustainability initiatives, such as community solar program access and solar program caps.

Atlanta-based firm Holland and Knight will act as the city's lobbyist at the state capitol for the upcoming legislative session. Council approved a $102,000 contract with the firm on Nov. 9. Holland and Knight will work with Savannah-based company SPR, a public relations firm led by Moncello Stewart, a community activist and grassroots organizer.

Katie Nussbaum is the city and county government reporter for the Savannah Morning News. Contact her at knussbaum@savannahnow.com. Twitter: KnussSMN

This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: City Hall Notebook: Savannah council approves fire equipment, briefed on legislative agenda