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June 20 - COMMENTARY: Al Scott and the Inside Politics of the Police Merger

By Lou Phelps, Publisher

June 20. 2017 – Mayor Eddie Deloach has decided to take a political gamble, bringing the question of ending the police merger before the City Council on Friday, at a Special Called meeting. He’s apparently decided to test the meddle of the County Commissioners who have almost uniformly questioned the amount of money the City wants the County to kick in for county-wide police coverage.

But, is he being outmaneuvered by County Chairman Al Scott?

The ‘Savannah Chatham Intergovernmental Agreement’ that documents the shared costs and the decision-making process of running the SCMPD by the City of Savannah and Chatham County, runs through December 31, 2017.  So, what’s the rush right now?

Politically deft as always, Scott deflects from the three years of painful negotiations over the merger, and points out that the County, “just passed our budget 18 days ago.  And, our tax money doesn’t even start coming in until November.”  Further, he posits that “the staffs” of the City and County are still working through all of the numbers arrived at by the Berkshire consulting firm, released in late May, a study that was jointly commissioned by the two bodies.

That report concludes that the Unincorporated taxpayers in the County should be paying 25.7% of the total costs of the police department.  At the current staffing levels, that would put 138 police officers on patrol in the Unincorporated portions of the County, or 1.2 officers per 1,000 residents, according to Scott.

“We’re good with that.  That’s about the number of officers we would have if we were running our own police department,” the Chairman adds.

But, the Berkshire report says an additional 100 officers should be added to the department due to the crime and the influx of tourists here every day.  Scott uses an average of what he terms “40,000 non-residents that are here in the area every day,” primarily within the City limits, he believes.

“All you have to do is look at the sales tax, the hotel/motel tax, to see whether they’re in the City or the County,” he adds.

So, "Why should the residents in the Unincorporated areas have to pay to police those 40,000?", is his question, and the objection of the what looks to be the majority of the other Commissioners.  

The Aldermen have argued for years that tourism benefits all residents of Chatham County, regardless of where the tourists sleep and eat; everyone in the County benefits through the tourism industry creating jobs, putting money in banks, impacting the region’s real estate and construction industries, and expanding a sales tax base that pays for shared City/County services.

Scott has other objections about the work done by the Berkshire firm, as well.  “They didn’t even look at where the 911 calls are coming from.  How does that make sense?” he asks.  And, “There’s at least a million-dollar error in that report, as well.  The City wants us to adopt it as written.  That wouldn’t be doing our due diligence.”

And so, while he states that he is “committed to keeping it merged,” he adds, “but they’re going to have to be committed, as well.  It’s a mathematical deal,” and he disagrees with one of the Mayor’s statements reported by the SBJ today:  the County staff is not ‘good with the numbers,’ according to the Chairman.

“Eddie came over here last year, and said to me, ‘I think that if we cut what the County has to pay by a million, then we can get the support of some of the Republicans on the Commission.’  I told him, you can try, but you are never going to get their support,” says Scott.

And, the City did.  For the current fiscal year, the County was theoretically supposed to pay $14.2 million toward police costs, but the City agreed they would only pay $13 million while both governments kicked in to fund the Berkshire study.  Deloach gave them a million off, but still didn’t gain support.

Working ‘the Republican angle’ hasn’t worked, apparently.

Scott, a Democrat, also adds that the Mayor has bypassed the Police Safety Policy Committee process, to a degree. 

Of course, he's got other aces in his hand: “We own 140 to 160 police cars. I sign the invoices. We own those cars; we have the titles.  We own three police stations, including the Chatham Parkway station where the 911 system is at," lobs Scott, back over the head of the Mayor. 

Looking at the chess pieces moving on the board, it’s beginning to look like the Deloach team – whoever is still on it – is being outmaneuvered. 

We haven’t called termed him ‘King Al’ over these past four years for nothing, as he has ruled Chatham County with an iron fist, a fast shuffle and a solid grasp of the County's politics.

 

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