An expected battle on Savannah City Council over whether to keep property taxes the same or adopt a "rollback" millage rate seems to have been averted, at least for now, due to a last-minute infusion of federal dollars which would keep current funding intact — and help alleviate eviction pressures on residents.
has obtained documents indicating that the City of Savannah has just received federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act funds, passed through the state of Georgia, of over $2 million, with much more on the way.
The documents show Interim City Manager Pat Monahan informing Council that, "On Thursday, the City received $2,268,707 as the Phase 1 allocation (30%) of $7,562,356 from the State of Georgia’s share of the federal CARES Act Section 5001. The state distributed funds to local governments based on per capita population (except that local governments with population of 500,000 or more received direct allocation from federal government). Future distributions will be based on reimbursements."
While the City has waited several weeks for the first distribution, Monahan goes on, "funding can only be used for 'qualified purposes' and must be spent (by receipt or cashed check) by September 1, 2020."
Qualified purposes include community uses related to hardships from COVID-19 (eviction assistance, mortgage assistance, rent assistance, utility payment assistance and small business loans/grants) as well as reimbursement to local governments for COVID-19 related expenditures, such as PPE (personal protective equipment), testing, and dedicated staff time.
"The Sept. 1 deadline places pressure on the City to distribute the federal funding as quickly as practical," Monahan says.
With help from community agencies such as The United Way and the Small Business Assistance Program, Monahan will unveil a plan to rapidly distribute the funding, even before a full vote of Council.
"I plan to execute necessary agreements on Monday to begin the distribution and especially to assist with 50 pending eviction cases in Magistrate’s Court," Monahan says.
"With time pressing, waiting until after approval Thursday from Council would mean a loss of four days to begin the task of distributing needed relief funds to those in our community who need the money the most."
The funding likely halts — or at least postpones — an increasingly bitter battle on Council over whether to keep the City property tax millage rate the same — which would result in an increase in total payments on some residents due to an increase in assessed property values — or adopt a so-called "rollback" rate which would essentially keep citizen payments the same as they are now.
If the rollback rate had been adopted, the City would likely have to cut at least $600,000 in programs and services — cuts which are less likely now given the new infusion of funds.
The money clears the way for the City to adopt the rollback rate without cutting funds.
However, as one City official tells us, "this probably only delays that fight until next year," when the City budget is expected to really feel the toll of the pandemic-induced recession.