Have you heard? Savannah is cutting its budget. Income has remained flat they say. Therefore we have to cut the non-essentials such as social services and art. Why is it that the very Christian right always feels a need during hard times to cut the most vulnerable services? First off why are we cutting anything if income has remained flat? Why isn’t it nothing increases? Because we are increasing the budget in certain areas. Police officers and firefighters will be increased. All city employees’ salaries will be increased. None of these are bad things to see increased. It explains a lot, frankly, that a city that is experiencing twenty-six percent poverty and thinks social services are a place to cut has had this poverty problem for quite a while (thirty aught years at least). Poverty breeds crime and other social ills. Poverty of the percentage we have here in Savannah is an emergency, and social services that mitigate and rid this problem should be nurtured not have their budget cut.
Then there is the question of the arts. The arts are what make Savannah have a heartbeat. Where would we be without a Jazz Festival, Music Festival, Telfair Academy Programming, and the list goes on. Art has salvaged many a life born in poverty. Art helps develop a creative brain trust to help address the different issues a community may face. Art relieves the stress from our lives. Art puts money into our economy. So why are they the first to be cut?
So here is my cynical analysis. We have a new city manager. In the large company CEO world it is the trend for the CEO to come in and cut production costs. Thus a new CEO almost always guarantees a layoff. Production cost is cut and the shareholders are pleased and the CEO has become the hero. The new city manager comes to town; he must prove he is worth his money. What is the sign of a good city manager? A balanced budget and efficient government. What are the two constituencies with the least amount of clout: the poor and the art community? So it is easiest to cut there. What are usually everyone in favor of more police and fire protection? Even the artist and poor can get onboard with that. And how do you win favor with your new city employees come in giving them a much deserved raise. After a raise no employee will be criticizing the new boss for a while.
So you have lined your pocket with good will with most of the population. You have the ‘he will make the hard choices reputation established’. And now you are ready for a long honeymoon. When in fact you made no hard choices you have done what most will be happy with.
Why is income flat? Let me suggest a few things that have caused stress on our budget. One big one is Hurricane Matthew. But I have lived here over twenty-five years and hurricanes are rare here so this is a once maybe twice a lifetime expense. Another stressor for the cash flow has been the utilities billing not going out for a few months because the new programming was not working. Hopefully, this is not an experience that will be happening again. Projects that are over studied and cost money and delays that allow inflation to increase the cost of public infrastructure projects by indecision. Build an arena and new cultural leisure services building already. Good grief. Why do we need more police because our former police chief was corrupt and this has allowed the streets to be filled with gang activity and police officers to resign en masse. The money we had trained officers with was wasted. And now the streets have not been policed at full strength for so long we need an influx of extra officers to regain control of the streets. Yes it was high time we had a black police chief but gee whiz hire the best black police chief you can find not someone who you should have known had issues. This I could have respected. So now we are in a hopefully momentary crises of money brought by a rare occurrence of Mother Nature who we cannot control and bad governance which hopefully we can control.
It is my desire for the new city manager to work on good governance and not typical fiddling with the budget for our city needs this more than cuts to those agencies that will help Savannah move forward.