Savannah City Council to hold budget retreat this week; economy showing signs of recovery

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Savannah’s economy is beginning to show signs of recovery, but experts say we are far from back to normal.

An economic monitor report put out by Georgia Southern University shows Savannah’s tourism industry is taking the hardest hit. Data shows 10,300 jobs were lost in the second quarter (April and May).

The tourism and hospitality industry, at one point, was the largest sector for employment, now it ranks fifth.

“We do know that the worst is behind us from an economics perspective,” said Dr. Mika Toma, an economics professor at Georgia Southern.

The worst may be in a rearview, but Toma says major damage has been done. Data shows rental room rates plunged 60% compared to last year.

Air travel also took a nosedive of roughly 86% pre-pandemic. In the first quarter of the year, 100,000 people boarded planes, in the second quarter that number was only 15,000.

“The current recession that we are in is much more of a widespread phenomenon because COVID affected all sectors of the economy,” said Toma, “but noting that the service sector was particularly hard hit.”

Luckily, Georgia’s ports and local manufacturing are actually above their employment base as compared to last year. Toma says it’s a source of much-needed stability, but not enough to sustain economic growth.

“That’s not to say that the tourism and hospitality industry is not important, it certainly is but in terms of overall economic activity the manufacturing sector is significantly larger,” said Toma.

The losses are will play a heavy role in decision making as Mayor Van Johnson prepares to tackle the 2021 budget.

“My priority is to A, make sure we don’t lay off any city employees, ” said Johnson, “hopefully that we don’t furlough any city employees and we are able to maintain acceptable levels of service delivery throughout the organization.”

Toma says layoffs can often do more harm than good because people without jobs can’t put money back into the economy.

“The notion that preserve and protect the job base that we have in terms of the employees of the city is very admirable and economically wise and sound,” said Toma.

Johnson acknowledges they won’t be able to make everyone happy, but they want to make sure basic needs are covered.

“I’m hoping that we will be in a position to not expect too much, but to be able to prevent and play defense and maintain what we have,” he added.

Savannah City Council will hold the 2021 budget retreat this week.

The meetings are set for Thursday, Nov. 19 and Friday, Nov. 20 at 9 a.m. in the Johnny Mercer Theatre at the Savannah Civic Center.

Both meetings are open to the public. Social distancing guidelines will be followed for those attending in person. The meetings can also be livestreamed on the city’s Facebook page.

A digital version of the proposed 2021 budget can be viewed here.

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