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Tuesday, January 1, 2013 - 8:00am

Chatham County Sees Leadership Changes

Savannah's Chatham County is about to undergo a heavy turnover in its leadership.

The new year brings four new members of the county commission, including a new chairman.

But there are several changes in senior staff as well.

Longtime assistant county manager Pat Monahan is retiring this week.

And county manager Russ Abolt is planning to retire in March 2014.

Together, the two have been at the top of county administration for about 25 years, a period of enormous changes in the Savannah area.

Monahan says Abolt pointed out to him how the stability has benefited county residents.

"He said, 'Think about the stability of Chatham County government versus other governments.' For example, we're about to see our seventh chairman in the county," Monahan says. "But in that time, just think, the City of Savannah has gone through four managers. And how many changes have we seen in school superintendents?"

Monahan says new commissioners will have to establish goals and priorities to address pressing funding gaps.

"The continued decline in sales tax collections, the stagnation of the real estate market, which translates into property tax values, which remains the county's single largest source of revenue -- those are issues the new commission will grapple with," Monahan says.

The county also has to deal with the higher costs of running a new, larger detention center.

Together, Abolt and Monahan have steered the coast's largest county government through challenges like these for a quarter century.

Some of the county's largest public projects undertaken during this time include the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center on Hutchinson Island, which has brought lots of new tourism business to the area, and the Truman Parkway, a highway project begun decades ago that is nearing completion on Savannah's Southside.

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