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Beach sand part of hold up in county, cities negotiations of tax dollars

Posted on December 14, 2022

Chatham County and the eight cities within it have less than a month to come to an agreement on how to split funds from the Local Option Sales Tax.

Just when it looked like a deal was ready, a fight over beach sand brought everything to a halt on Wednesday. The meeting ended when the Chatham County delegation walked out, saying the cities are not negotiating in good faith.

Chatham County Commission Chairman Chester Ellis, as well as Savannah Mayor Van Johnson and City Manager Jay Melder, all sounded frustrated after Wednesday’s meeting.

The battle between Chatham County and its cities continues. There’s still no agreement on how to split LOST revenue. Now, beach renourishment on Tybee Island is also becoming an issue.

“The county walked away from the table in an offer that we made would’ve netted them $102 million over 10 years of additional revenue that they don’t have now, and an opportunity to protect Tybee Island through their beach renourishment,” Mayor Johnson said.

“We’ve already worked that out with the Corps of Engineers and Senator Ossoff and Tybee. Because I was a part of that. So, that’s already in the plan. So, you aren’t really negotiating in good faith,” Chairman Ellis said.

The cities were offering a flat 26/74 percent split between the county and the cities, but also wanted beach renourishment.

The county, on the other hand, proposed taking the 26/74 percent split between the county and the cities and then increasing the county’s cut every year until it reaches 31 percent by 2025.

Chairman Ellis says he thought the county was giving the cities what they wanted and he was surprised when the cities rejected the offer.

Ellis said he feels that of the eight municipalities in the county, that the City of Savannah in particular is holding up negotiations.

“The City of Savannah is really the holdup. By putting things like Bush Road in, by putting things like Tybee beach renourishment in, you are not negotiating in good faith. Those things have been already done,” Chairman Ellis said.

Melder said that in the deal the county walked away from, Savannah would’ve been giving up $76 million to Chatham County – which is a significant amount of money as costs continue to rise.

“I don’t think that that describes at all the City of Savannah holding up these negotiations. I think that describes the City of Savannah working hard, working in earnest, to close this deal, to protect taxpayers, to protect property taxes, and to work in the spirit of collaboration with the county,” Melder said.

We don’t know when the groups might be able to finally make a deal, as they’re both saying the other side needs to play ball.

“When the City of Savannah and those who are in the negotiating room come to the realization of what’s going on, then they can call and we can decide, but we told them, we don’t need to have all of this going back and forth,” Ellis said.

“We’re willing and have offered opportunities to be able to agree and sign and move on. The County has walked away- this is the second time they’ve walked away from the mediation table. We’re not holding out. We’re still here,” Johnson said.

If they can’t come to an agreement by the end of December, the Local Options Sales Tax will expire.

If that happens, sales tax in Chatham County would go down by 1 percent but residents might see an increase on their 2023 property tax bill as governments try to make the money back.


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