SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Savannah Mayor Eddie DeLoach gave the 2019 State of the City address Tuesday night, beginning his speech by saying the city is thriving.
The mayor pointed to record-low unemployment, a drop in poverty, hundreds of millions in private investment, and an increasing bond rating to support that claim.
The address was a mix of acknowledging achievements and also areas where improvements are needed, also looking at future partnerships and collaborations that will take Savannah into the future.
Mayor DeLoach said 2018 was not a year without challenges.
“The problem the city has faced is trying to apply short term solutions to long term problems. Too often, the elected officials have been focused on the next election cycle, and not on what is best for the long-term health and growth of our city and her residents," DeLoach said.
Mayor DeLoach pointed out in the past three years, Savannah went from 49 to 28 homicides. Still, he says too many families are left hurting.
As a city, the mayor says there has to be a pathway to economic freedom and mobility.
DeLoach also highlighted the efforts of The Front Porch to help the city’s youth, and a brand new diversion program that’s been in the works for months.
“Sadly, for many of our residents, a youthful event has placed a permanent mark on their record, which blocks them from getting a job or having upward mobility in their desired field of work," the mayor said.
The diversion program will focus on non-violent offenders from 17 to 25 years old, and is a collaborative effort between the mayor’s office, district attorney, Savannah Police Department and the Coastal Georgia Indicators Coalition.
The plan is to begin the pilot program this spring.
Mayor DeLoach also challenged his fellow council members and county leaders to come up with a funding solution for affordable housing.
“So tonight, I am asking my council and the county to join me in setting aside at least $6 million dollars of the proposed SPLOST dollars to create a revolving fund to build 50 homes a year in our Savannah neighborhoods. These funds will provide quality housing for working people, that our struggling citizens so desperately need.”
DeLoach also proposed funding a study to look at ways local colleges and universities can become an economic engine for the city and surrounding communities.
Mayor Pro-Tem Carol Bell couldn’t contain her excitement after Mayor DeLoach delivered the address. She hasn’t seen a State of the City Address with this many accomplishments in a while.
“Working together with the city, the county, the school board, social services, all of these folks coming together breaking down silos,” Bell said.
Bell says these outside partnerships allowed for the new Domestic Violence Unit at Savannah Police Department and the Front Porch Program.
Other community members also noted the collaborative efforts.
“I think the mayor provided a solid platform of what we’ve been doing, not just him and the mayor’s office, but the collaborative effort between the council the administration," said G. Lind Taylor, Savannah.
Some want to make sure the progress continues all across Savannah - not just downtown.
“Downtown is taking care of itself. Tourism and downtown businesses, they are taking care of themselves. That wheel will continue to run, but the problem is outside of downtown and outside of the Historic District,” said Alicia Blakely, Savannah.
“We need to take what’s happening downtown further than just Abercorn Street, further than DeRenne. We need to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to see Savannah for what it truly is," said Detric Leggett, Savannah.
It’s an election year for Savannah City Council and for the mayor’s seat. Candidates have started their announcements, and Mayor DeLoach has confirmed with WTOC his intention is to run in November.
You can watch the full State of the Address below: