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Tuesday, May 14, 2013 - 12:13pm

County Officials Push Back Against Taxes

Commissioners in Savannah's Chatham County are pushing back against a recommendation to increase property taxes.

The county is struggling to finance a jail expansion approved by voters seven years ago.

The county built a new jail to ease overcrowding.

But Sheriff Al St. Lawrence says he'll be back in the same overcrowded conditions if he doesn't have the budget to hire adequate staff.

He's requesting 94 new positions, mostly for the jail.

A skeptical commission chairman Al Scott says he wants to know if the Sheriff has squeezed every dollar out of his budget.

"That brings the total that we have to roll over into this year's budget of $10.5 million," Scott says. "That is a full mill of tax on Chatham Countians. So, my thing is that that money will have to be justified."

A mill tax increase would mean a roughly 10% hike in the base property tax rate.

"With me trying to keep my pledge of trying to keep taxes as low as possible - and I'm looking for cuts in all areas - I'm also looking for cuts in the Sheriff's department as well," Scott says.

Commissioners say they want to avoid a tax increase if they can by the budget deadline in late June.

The jail is tentatively scheduled to open July first if the budget request is met.

The Sheriff says if the county can't meet overcrowding guidelines, it could face a lawsuit.

"I do not want to wind up like Fulton County and be under court order for overcrowding," St. Lawrence told GPB in February. "I'm just trying to solve the problems of Chatham County."

St. Lawrence is requesting $48,808,282 for next year's budget, an increase of 22%.

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