Mayor: Savannah needs federal help for ‘devastating losses’ due to COVID-19

Local News

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Coronavirus has Savannah leaders facing two concerns: the health of residents and the economic impact.

During a press conference Tuesday morning, Mayor Van Johnson says there is no federal help on the way for the city’s ailing budget.

“I mean, I know our citizens are tired, I’m tired, it’s difficult,” said Johnson, adding that the COVID-19 fight is far from over.

The mayor said so far, 68 City employees have tested positive for the coronavirus, including 38 police officers and seven firefighters.

Currently, 24 City employees remain positive, including seven cops.

In the past several days, Johnson said the percent of positive tests in Chatham County has slightly dropped. There are still over 150 people currently hospitalized due to COVID-19.

“If we look at it now from a historical sense we are worse now than when Savannah had its stay at home order,” the mayor said.

Johnson said the new testing sites that recently opened as part of Savannah’s partnership with the State of New York are making good progress. The site at Kingdom Life church has tested 1,295 people so far.

The mayor said that not only is Savannah’s mask mandate still enforceable but that 25 City employees will now have the power to cite those who violate it.

“And we realize that sometimes, people don’t learn until they receive a ticket that we’re serious, and so well continue to be politely aggressive in making sure that people are wearing masks,” Johnson said. “We know that masks slow the spread of COVID 19.”

Along with the health concerns of COVID-19 come the financial impacts. Johnson says so far, the city is at least $13.2 million short in the general fund. That’s because of the initial shutdown and now because of fewer visitors.

“And we’re asking Washington to give us direct aid to be able to address the needs that we have,” Johnson said.

The mayor also participated in a press conference Tuesday with the National League of Cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors to discuss the new possible national stimulus package.

“The GOP bill does not have direct funding to cities, which has a direct and dire impact on cities across the country like Savannah, who are responsible for providing direct services, but are faced with devastating losses in our main sources of revenue,” Johnson said.

The mayor said those sources of revenue in Savannah include “lost sales, lost hotel and motel taxes, that cannot be recovered.”

Watch Tuesday morning’s press conference in full:

Johnson said cities, towns and villages have long been the backbone of the American economy. In seeking federal aid, Johnson said cities are asking for a “fighting chance.”

The mayor said every single day matters in Savannah, and the City needs support, “not just now, but right now.”

In other City news, Johnson said the first round of interviews for the new city manager are set to begin next week. Finalists will be announced to the public when they are selected.

The mayor reminded everyone to complete their 2020 Census, which is now 52% complete. He also asked that the community consider early voting to avoid any issues at the polls on the upcoming election day.

Johnson said that on Thursday morning, he will announce the Housing Savannah task force that will focus on making sure the City has affordable housing options for all. WSAV will bring you live coverage Thursday morning at 10 a.m.

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