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Major park approved for southside
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THE WILSHIRE neighborhood on Savannah’s Southside is getting what will be one of the city’s largest parks.

Some aldermen at the April 24 Savannah City Council meeting questioned whether the park project should be given priority over other needed projects. But aldermen Tony Thomas and Clifton Jones, whose districts abut in the Wilshire neighborhood, said that residents there are excited about the project.

“It isn’t a one-shot deal, it’s several years in the making,” Thomas said. “Lots of contracts will come out of this in the future.

“This will be a legacy for this council and administration,” he said. “I’m being a little selfish now, but we’ve needed it for a long time and this council has found a way to provide it.

“This is a great opportunity,” Thomas said. “It shows the commitment by this council and administration in moving forward. It will be an active park.”

Several sports fields will be built as part of the project. To make way for the park, the council voted to decommission a sewage treatment plant located at the site and divert wastewater to another site for treatment.

The council agreed to award engineering services for the project to Hussey Gay Bell and DeYoung at a cost of $635,638. Although that bid was the highest of five submitted for the project, City Manager Michael Brown said approval was justified.

“In most cases, the others did not supply technical services,” Brown said. “The level of service is not equivalent. These are not fair comparisons.”

The council approved an ordinance to amend fire service fees for non-residential properties, but on April 25, the Chatham County Commission agreed to extend fire service coverage to those areas through the Southside Fire Department at an even lower rate. Homeowners’ associations in unincorporated areas in Chatham County, including Runaway Point, The Bluff, Emerald Pointe and Causton Bluff, had complained that increasing property assessments meant the fire service fee was unfairly high.

The new ordinance set the maximum annual fee at $500. However, the county commission’s action would lower that cap more.

In the past, a city ordinance required that the Savannah Fire Department charge its customers 3 mills, or three-tenths of a cent per $1,000 of the home’s assessed value. The Southside Fire Department placed a cap on its fees, which only reflect home improvements.

In other action, Brown said he would meet with real estate agencies and managers to discuss a rental property regulation ordinance. City Attorney James Blackburn was asked to review the ordinance, which will be returned to the city council in about a month.

The ordinance is designed to help eliminate blight. Under the plan, derelict properties would be required to be inspected.

The council approved the low bid of $1.005 million from L.B. Griffin Contracting, Inc. for the first phase of a sewer extension project on Louisville Road. However, some aldermen were upset that the company is non-local and non-minority owned.

Pass any construction job under way in Savannah, and you’re likely to see minorities at work. But that doesn’t mean they’re local minorities.

Alderman Edna Jackson told the council that she sees “numerous immigrants” at job sites. “I’m not saying they shouldn’t be hired, but we must ensure that local residents who are looking for employment be considered,” she said. “We’re seeing minorities on these jobs, but not necessarily local minorities.

“They can come from Timbuktu, but employment of our residents here in this community is important,” Jackson said. “That’s my only concern.”

“We need to impress upon on them we expect the minorities to come from the local communities,” Alderman Mary Osbourne said.

“It’s not doing our minority community any good if these workers are coming from Alabama, Carolina or Florida,” Alderman Tony Thomas said.

Bob and Jean Faircloth were recognized by the council for their contributions to the Savannah Music Festival. The Faircloths have agreed to donate $10,000 a year for the next 10 years to fund the annual high school competition.

“I’m an immigrant to the United States and this has been a great, great country for me and my family,” Bob Faircloth said. “This is something Jean and I can reach out and touch. We can see the essence of it. We’re lucky people and we’ve got a winner here.”