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If you are accused of a crime, the only thing standing between your freedom and a verdict of "guilty" is an experienced criminal defense attorney in Vernonburg, GA.

Those who have been arrested before know that life in the legal system is no laughing matter. Aside from the imminent ramifications of fines and jail time, any goals you have of bettering yourself and advancing your life could be compromised. Without a trusted attorney by your side, you could face a lifetime of embarrassment and poor employment prospects due to a tarnished criminal record.

The good news? Dennis O'Brien and his team of experienced lawyers in Vernonburg are ready to clear your name. By retaining the help of a criminal defense attorney early in the legal process, you have a much better chance of securing your freedom and living a life as a productive member of society.

At O'Brien Law Firm PC, our practice was founded to fight for the rights of individuals accused of or charged with a crime. Our team of legal experts is well-equipped to take even the most difficult, contentious cases. From violent felonies to DUI, there is nothing we haven't seen and handled. As a former law enforcement officer, founding attorney Dennis O'Brien knows exactly how much a person can lose if convicted. That's why we work tirelessly to secure a verdict that is favorable for our clients.

Regardless of how serious or minor your case may be, know that we will fight fearlessly on your behalf. You deserve zealous representation - when you hire O'Brien Law Firm PC, you will receive nothing less.

 Drug Lawyer Vernonburg, GA
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The O'Brien Law Firm PC Difference

Many of our clients are surprised to discover that founding lawyer Dennis O'Brien was a police officer prior to his criminal defense career. As a former Field Training Officer for the Memphis Police Department, he has over two decades of knowledge and experience in the criminal justice system. Dennis truly understands the nuance and complexities involved in a criminal defense case. This rare experience gives Dennis a clear edge in any criminal defense case and gives clients priceless peace of mind when they need it the most. Unlike some criminal defense attorneys in Vernonburg, Dennis O'Brien and his team believe that every client deserves effective, empathetic legal assistance. While some Vernonburg criminal defense firms will take weekends off or pass along cases to paralegals, Dennis personally reviews each of his cases. There is no case too small or big for O'Brien Law Firm PC. When you hire our firm, you can rest easy knowing that we will be by your side when the going gets tough.

 Federal Defense Attorney Vernonburg, GA
Here are just a few reasons why O'Brien Law Firm PC is Vernonburg's top choice in criminal defense:
  • Vigorous Representation
  • Fierce Dedication to Clients
  • Unmatched Experience
  • Face-to-Face Counsel
  • Prompt Response to Inquiries and Questions
  • Commitment to Defending Your Rights
  • Thorough, Effective Research and Investigation
  • Contact Us or Call: 912-704-5150
 Criminal Defense Law Firms Vernonburg, GA
Our firm has represented hundreds of criminal defense clients in Vernonburg and is highly qualified to take your case. Some of our specialties include:

Drug Cases in Vernonburg, GA

When you are charged with a drug crime in Vernonburg, it can change your life forever. Georgia imposes very strict punishments for drug offenses. The truth is, it's hard to get your life back on track with a drug charge on your record. Your freedom and way of life could be in the hands of your criminal defense attorney. As such, you need a competent lawyer with years of experience handling drug cases. Leaving your fate in the hands of an incompetent attorney could have long-lasting effects on your family and may result in a conviction.

 Criminal Defense Lawyers Vernonburg, GA

Consequences for drug crimes in Vernonburg often include:

  • Jail
  • Prison
  • Heavy fines
  • Community service
  • Court-ordered drug and alcohol counseling
  • Probation or parole
  • Permanent criminal record

While the consequences for a drug crime in Georgia are serious, there's reason to be hopeful: O'Brien Law Firm PC is here to fight for you. Remember - being charged with a drug crime is NOT the same thing as being convicted.

Our stellar team has represented many clients facing numerous drug-related charges. While each situation varies, one constant remains the same for clients facing drug charges: a fear of what lies ahead. At O'Brien Law Firm PC our job is to help you overcome the fear of the unknown. We do so by ensuring you understand your charges, the possible outcomes associated with those charges, and the options you need to consider from a criminal defense standpoint.

With more than a decade of experience as Vernonburg drug crime attorneys, we have the experience and resources to defend you in court no matter what your charges may be, including:

  • Marijuana
  • Crack
  • Cocaine
  • Heroin
  • Methamphetamine
  • Ecstasy

No matter what charge you are facing, our team has the experience and resources to build a comprehensive defense strategy for your drug case in Vernonburg, GA. Without a criminal defense attorney acting as your advocate, you could be facing very harsh penalties. Here are a few punishments you could be facing for drug crimes in Vernonburg:

  • Schedule I or Schedule II Drug Possession
    Schedule I or Schedule II Drug Possession:

    Having less than a gram (or one milliliter for liquids) of this type of drug results in a prison term of one to three years. Having four grams or milliliter carries a term of one to eight years.

  • Schedule III, IV, or V Drug Possession
    Schedule III, IV, or V Drug Possession:

    Any substance on this list is punishable by a prison sentence of one to three years.

  • Non-Narcotic Schedule II Drug Possession
    Non-Narcotic Schedule II Drug Possession:

    If you have less than two grams or milliliters of this substance, punishments can be between one year and three years. Having up to four grams or milliliters results in a prison sentence of one to eight years.

  • Possession of Marijuana
    Possession of Marijuana:

    Those who are in possession of less than an ounce of marijuana are subject to a jail sentence of up to 12 months. Fines may be no more than $1,000. Possession of more than an ounce of marijuana can result in a prison term of one to 10 years.

To avoid these life-changing punishments, you must take action now. Contact O'Brien Law Firm today for a consultation about your case.

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 Defense Lawyers Vernonburg, GA
 Criminal Defense Attorney Vernonburg, GA

Violent Crime Cases in Vernonburg, GA

Violent crime offenses in Vernonburg typically involve some form of bodily harm to another individual, actions committed against an individual's will, or threatening someone with bodily harm. Aggravated violent offenses are more severe charges and often occur when a violent crime is made more serious due to circumstances like deadly weapons.

Much like serious drug cases, violent crimes create an added layer of negativity that follows the accused for the rest of their life. In these cases, even an accusation is enough to cause irreparable damage to a person's reputation. Those convicted of a violent crime face severe penalties that can include years in a correctional facility.

Common crimes of this nature include but are not limited to:
  • Murder
  • Assault with the intent to murder
  • Vehicular homicide
  • Domestic violence
  • Assault
  • Battery
  • Kidnapping
  • Rape
  • Robbery
  • Carjacking

When you are accused of any of the above crimes, your freedom hangs in the balance. The outcome of your case will determine whether you leave the courtroom with your freedom intact or stripped away to serve time behind bars. Because the punishments for violent crimes are so extreme, you should be seeking legal counsel from a criminal defense attorney in Vernonburg, GA, as soon as possible. As a former police officer with a long record of positive verdicts in violent crime cases, Dennis O'Brien is well equipped to represent you in court.

Having a criminal defense lawyer by your side is the best way to avoid the serious punishments associated with violent crimes. These punishments usually result in prison time if convicted and include:
Forced rape: 20 years
Armed robbery: Up to 20 years
Simple assault: Up to 12 months
Aggravated assault: 10 to 20 years
Aggravated battery: Up to 20 years
Involuntary manslaughter: One to 20 years
Vehicular homicide Up to 15 years
Murder: Life in prison or the death sentence
Zealous Representation Without Judgement

As a former police officer, Dennis O'Brien has seen the toll it takes on a person when charged with a crime. His time in law enforcement allows him to empathize with his clients who desperately need competent representation. Despite being innocent until proven guilty, accusations are scary, and conviction could be a reality. That is why you must work with a trustworthy criminal defense lawyer in Vernonburg, GA who will work tirelessly to clear your name.

Clients choose O'Brien Law Firm because we believe in open communication, honesty, and hard work. It is not our job to act as judges for those who have been accused of crimes. Rather, our goal is to find the best defense that allows us to protect our clients' rights and freedoms.

DUI Cases in Vernonburg, GA

Driving under the influence (DUI) is one of the most common crimes committed in Georgia. Punishments for such a crime can be severe, and for understandable reasons - when a person operates a vehicle while they are intoxicated, they're putting their life and the lives of others at risk.

While DUI is a serious crime that completely upend the accused's life, the earnest desire to end drunk driving can make police officers too eager to catch a person who they believe is under the influence.

 Criminal Defense Law Firm Vernonburg, GA

The city of Vernonburg, Georgia, has implemented severe punishments for DUI, even for first-time offenders. Individuals charged with DUI in Vernonburg could face:

  • Very expensive fines and fees
  • Loss of license
  • Incarceration

Fortunately, if you or someone you love has been charged with DUI, there is hope. This is particularly true when the accused is administered a breath or blood test for DUI. In fact, cases that involve a breath and/or blood test are beaten daily. When you hire O'Brien Law Firm PC, we will dive deep into your DUI case in Vernonburg and examine every angle possible for your case to be dismissed. Here are just a few questions our team will investigate:

  • Was the stop legal? If not, your case could be dismissed
  • Is there enough evidence or probable cause to arrest you? If not, Dennis O'Brien will file a pre-trial motion and will fight hard to have your case dismissed before trial.
  • Did the police read you your implied consent rights? If not, your case could be thrown out. Failure to read implied consent rights to the accused is one of the most common police errors.
  • Were your blood testing records and breathalyzer results maintained? Breath testing comes with inherent weaknesses that can create doubt in a juror's mind.

There are numerous ways to beat a DUI case in Georgia, from unreliable field sobriety tests to inaccurate state-administered breath tests. As a veteran criminal defense lawyer in Vernonburg, GA, Dennis O'Brien has the knowledge and experience to expose the state's mistakes and fight for your rights. When you hire O'Brien Law Firm PC your chances of dismissal are greatly increased. When your case is dismissed, you can continue living life without the burden of a criminal record.

 Criminal Justice Attorney Vernonburg, GA

If you or someone you love is accused of a crime in Vernonburg, GA, don't leave fate up to the prosecution. Take the necessary steps to protect yourself and your family before it's too late.

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Latest News in Vernonburg, GA

Savannah Alderman Tony Thomas faces censure vote after sexist, vulgar comments

Mayor Eddie DeLoach calls for special meetingSavannah Alderman Tony Thomas is facing a public rebuke by fellow City Council members after a confrontation he had with a local television reporter.Mayor Eddie DeLoach said he has scheduled a special council meeting at 5 p.m. Wednesday to consider a resolution to censure Thomas for sexist and vulgar comments made to the reporter Saturday - and to make it clear that such language is unacceptable."We, as leaders of this community, have a responsibility to ...

Mayor Eddie DeLoach calls for special meeting

Savannah Alderman Tony Thomas is facing a public rebuke by fellow City Council members after a confrontation he had with a local television reporter.

Mayor Eddie DeLoach said he has scheduled a special council meeting at 5 p.m. Wednesday to consider a resolution to censure Thomas for sexist and vulgar comments made to the reporter Saturday - and to make it clear that such language is unacceptable.

"We, as leaders of this community, have a responsibility to set an example that everyone should aspire to," DeLoach said.

The censure meeting was scheduled after Thomas admitted to calling the WTOC reporter, Georgiaree Godfrey, a "c***" and claimed he would make the comment again if given the chance, DeLoach said.

Thomas' behavior follows a downward spiral for the District 6 alderman, who had put several members of staff and council in compromising positions when he became intoxicated during the St. Patrick's Day parade in March, DeLoach said. The alderman ended up apologizing and the council agreed to move forward, DeLoach said.

"Sadley, in the last few days the same destructive behavior has resurfaced," he said.

Thomas is in his fifth term. He won the 2016 election with 58 percent of the vote, overcoming challengers Zena McClain, Stephen McElveen and David Self.

The censure vote would have to be unanimous to pass, under Georgia law.

If approved, the censure would be a condemnation of Thomas' actions, but would not impact his ability to vote or participate in discussions as a council member. That is the most the council can do and it is up to his constituents to hold him responsible for his actions, DeLoach said.

In a worst case-scenario, Georgia law provides for a recall election of elected officials due to an "act of malfeasance or misconduct while in office," a "violation of the oath of office," failure to perform duties or willfully misappropriating public funds. A recall election must have a chairperson, sponsors and petitions, and valid signatures required for a recall election must be 15 percent of the number of constituents who voted in the preceding election, Georgia law states.

Other aldermen did not want to comment Tuesday.

The reporter for WTOC whom Thomas insulted was reportedly inquiring into Thomas' house being foreclosed on and being offered for sale through public auction on June 6. On Tuesday, there was a city dumpster outside the home on Vernonburg Road filled with couch cushions and some furnishings.

Chatham County Animal Services had recently performed a welfare check after neighbors had raised concerns about some cats living in the abandoned house, said county spokeswoman Catherine Glasby. But the cats were found to be in good health and allowed to stay on the property, Glasby said.

It is not clear where the alderman is living and Thomas did not return messages seeking comment Tuesday. City code requires that aldermen live in the district they represent.

On his public Savannah Alderman Facebook page, Thomas said WTOC's report of the encounter was misleading, malicious and false. The reporter was no angel and had come with a deceitful mission, Thomas said. He also stated that the house is not in foreclosure and he lives at the residence, and used the phrase "Fake News!"

Comments on Thomas' post ranged from support to criticism, with one poster saying "you've lost my goodwill" because of his vulgar remarks.

This is not the first time Thomas' language toward others has drawn scrutiny. In an ethics complaint made against him last year, Debra Kujawa and Karen Thompson said Thomas launched a "hate campaign" against them when they decided to support an opposing City Council candidate in the last election.

That complaint stemmed from comments Thomas posted on his personal Facebook page in which he called Kujawa and Thompson a variety of demeaning names such as "hag" and "skank." The committee dismissed the complaint in March after finding the comments did not constitute an ethics violation.

Lost when it comes to LOST? What you need to know about the Local Option Sales Tax

Chatham County government leaders and those of the eight municipalities within Chatham are negotiating shares of the local option sales tax, also known as LOST. The tax is a 1% levy paid on most goods and services purchased within the county.LOST is commonly referred to as the “fifth penny” in the seven cents charged on every dollar s...

Chatham County government leaders and those of the eight municipalities within Chatham are negotiating shares of the local option sales tax, also known as LOST. The tax is a 1% levy paid on most goods and services purchased within the county.

LOST is commonly referred to as the “fifth penny” in the seven cents charged on every dollar spent. LOST proceeds are the only sales tax revenue that goes directly to municipalities for general use. Of the other six cents in the tax, four go to the state, one to the county to be spent on designated capital improvement projects (SPLOST) and one to the Savannah-Chatham Public School System for upgrades (ESPLOST).

Here’s what you need to know about LOST and the negotiations.

More on taxes:Savannah council approves TSPLOST project list, with nod towards countywide CAT expansion

What about the timing? Why now?

The LOST agreement is valid for 10 years and expires at the end of the year following the release of the decennial U.S. Census - December 31, 2022, in this case. The expiration date is meant to force local governments to adjust shares of the proceeds based on population changes as reflected in the Census.

How much money are they negotiating over?

The 2023-2032 LOST is projected to generate almost $1 billion over the next 10 years. The stakeholders are working to agree on a percentage split between Chatham government and the municipal government. At this stage, negotiators are focused on the county share and the combined share for the municipalities. Once that agreement is reached, the municipalities work together to divide up their portion.

Under the current LOST, Chatham County received 23% of LOST revenues while the municipalities split 77%. The City of Savannah is the largest municipal recipient at 57%, followed by Pooler at 8.8%.

What are the parameters for dividing the money?

Georgia law lists eight criteria as guidance for determining shares of LOST, with a heavy focus on which government entities are responsible for delivering services. By law, Chatham County has sole responsibility for delivering 31 different services, such as the county jail and most of the county judicial system.

Other criteria include the point of sale that generates LOST proceeds, the effect of LOST funds on government debt and any existing intergovernmental agreements.

What is the impact of LOST on taxpayers?

LOST is a sales tax on goods and services purchased in Chatham County, which means it is paid by residents and visitors alike. As the center of a metro area and a popular tourism destination, a significant amount of LOST pennies come from consumers who live outside the county. Accounting pros say as much as 40% of LOST funds are paid by out-of-county residents.

Because LOST funds can be used at the discretion of the county and municipal governments, the proceeds allow for lower property taxes. Savannah’s current share brings in approximately $55 million annually for a budget that’s close to $480 million. Chatham’s smaller municipalities rely more heavily on LOST — for example, Bloomingdale and Vernonburg do not levy city property taxes on their residents, financing all their government operations via LOST and other revenue sources.

What’s happening now? What happens next?

Stakeholders met for the third negotiating session on Tuesday, with Chatham County Commission Chairman Chester Ellis presenting one proposal and the municipalities, represented by Savannah City Manager Jay Melder and Pooler City Manager Robert Byrd, offering a counterproposal. The two parties remain far apart, with the county asking for a 50% share and the municipalities proposing the county receive just 14%.

No future negotiating sessions are scheduled. Tuesday’s meeting closed with Ellis telling the municipal reps the county would be in touch about entering mediation.

By law, negotiations are to conclude within 60 days of July 1, or Aug. 30. If no agreement is reached, the stakeholders enter a mediation or arbitration phase, which is also limited to 60 days. Agreements reached in mediation or arbitration are non-binding. If an agreement is not signed by all parties by Dec. 30, 2022, the LOST expires and collections would cease on Jan. 1, 2023.

What happens if no agreement is reached and LOST expires?

Property taxes will go up. City of Savannah officials project losing LOST would force a 75% bump in the millage from a little over 12 mills to 21 mills. For context, a property with a taxable value of $150,000 would see a tax bill increase of $600; a $300,000 property would call for an additional $1,200; a $500,000 property by $2,000.

Chatham property taxes would climb as well, by approximately 1.5 mills, meaning taxpayers would see two increases. Using the same valuations as above, the county maintenance and operations tax on a $150,000 property would rise by $90; a $300,000 property by $180; and a $500,000 property by $300.

Can't a third party, like a judge, decide the split to avoid expiration?

Not anymore. The last time LOST was negotiated, the sides failed to reach agreement and took the matter to Superior Court. A judge heard arguments from both sides and was set to rule but the county and municipalities reached an 11th hour compromise.

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling made in the decade since the last LOST agreement stipulates that judicial action meant to settle legislative disputes is not binding, in essence ending the practice of "baseball arbitration" by the courts in tax matters between government entities.

What else do you need to know?

Chatham County has not issued public notice regarding the negotiating sessions and Tuesday’s meeting was the first attended by residents not employed by Chatham or municipal governments. Three journalists representing two media outlets learned of the meeting through sources and showed up at the Savannah Civic Center ballroom to attend the meeting.

Session invites included instructions about the number of elected officials on the negotiating teams. If half or more of any municipality's legislative body - a quorum -planned to attend the gatherings, a representative of that city was to notify the county and other municipalities so that all could issue notice to the public of the meeting, in compliance with the Georgia Open Meetings Act.

This led stakeholders to limit their negotiating teams so that the session falls outside the notice provisions in the Georgia Open Meetings Act, which states that a meeting is “The gathering of a quorum of the members of the governing body of an agency at which any official business, policy, or public matter of the agency is formulated, presented, discussed, or voted upon.”

The law further states that the following does not constitute a meeting: “The gathering of a quorum of the members of a governing body or committee for the purpose of attending state-wide, multijurisdictional, or regional meetings to participate in seminars or courses of training on matters related to the purpose of the agency or to receive or discuss information on matters related to the purpose of the agency at which no official action is to be taken by the members.”

Based on this interpretation of the definitions of quorum and meeting, more than two dozen officials from Chatham’s nine governmental jurisdictions — elected and unelected — can gather to negotiate outside the public eye, so long as no official action is taken.

Chatham sales tax negotiations stall. Why the breakdown poses a threat to property owners

Chatham County and its eight municipalities are carving up the next 10 years worth of sales tax revenue, and stakeholders are miles — and mills — apart on the size of their respective ...

Chatham County and its eight municipalities are carving up the next 10 years worth of sales tax revenue, and stakeholders are miles — and mills — apart on the size of their respective shares.

Nearly one month and three sessions into the Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) renegotiations, discussions have stalled on how funds from a 1% tax levy should be distributed amongst the county government and Chatham's eight incorporated municipal governments.

The latest session was held Tuesday, with the county proposing it should receive 50% of the approximately $1 billion in projected revenue from LOST collections between 2023 and 2032 and the municipalities countering with a proposal that limits Chatham County's share to 14%.

The municipalities' lead negotiator, Savannah City Manager Jay Melder, capped his presentation by telling Chatham Commission Chairman Chester Ellis the cities are "ready for mediation," a negotiation stage whereby a third-party mediator is enlisted to help find compromise.

Ellis closed the gathering moments later by promising the county would "be in touch about mediation."

Tough talk from Chatham County

LOST renegotiations happen every 10 years after the decennial U.S. Census as distributions are partly based on population.

In the past, debates over which governmental entities deserve a larger share have led to contentious, acrimonious exchanges, and even court-ordered arbitration between the county and the City of Savannah, which typically leads negotiations on behalf of the municipal governments because of the city's standing as the largest jurisdiction.

This year, government officials have expressed concerns about another round of thorny discussions. Tensions boiled over even before negotiations began. Some municipal officials say the first meeting was canceled and the following meeting led to angry outbursts from the chairman.

In case you missed it:City of Savannah to consider lowest millage rate in decades

At a negotiation session earlier this month, Chatham's Ellis presented letting LOST expire as an option, a move that would have a significant impact on revenues and force all governments to hike their property tax millage rates.

The proposal came across as an attempt by Ellis to leverage the county's position of power and to bully the municipalities into agreeing to a significantly larger LOST share for the county, said several sources with both direct and indirect knowledge of what was expressed in the meeting. Those sources spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation.

Ellis declined comment on the LOST discussions following Tuesday's session.

Facing a hard deadline for funding breakdown

Negotiators met Tuesday at the Savannah Civic Center ballroom and exchanged drastically different proposals for the new funding breakdown.

The county, which received a 23% share in the last 10 years, proposed a 50/50 split. The municipalities proposed cutting the county's share to 14%.

A consensus between the county and the cities is to be reached by August 30. If the deadline is not met, the two parties must settle disagreements through mediation or nonbinding arbitration. Mediation is where a facilitator or mediator helps the parties negotiate a settlement that everyone agrees to. Nonbinding arbitration is non-enforceable and the arbitrator’s decision is purely advisory.

LOST negotiations in 2012:Judge denies Chatham challenge to tax law

The mechanism is different from the binding arbitration or “baseball arbitration” that Chatham and Savannah employed in 2012’s negotiations of LOST funding. That legal remedy, which involved arguments before a Superior Court judge, has been ruled unconstitutional since.

A signed agreement on the funding breakdowns between the county and the municipalities must be officially settled before the end of the year, or else Chatham County and its jurisdictions will lose their ability to collect the 1% sales tax, resulting in millions of lost revenue.

To reimplement the LOST tax, county residents would have to vote on a ballot referendum to bring back the 1% sales tax, a hard deal to sell, said city officials.

LOST a crucial funding source

LOST has generated nearly $1 billion in the last 10-year cycle. With tourism abounding in the area, approximately 40% has come from out-of-county visitors.

“So, it’s a pretty good deal for local taxpayers,” said Savannah's Melder, who is heading the negotiations alongside Pooler City Manager Robbie Byrd.

LOST revenue has contributed significantly to county and municipal general funds and has kept property taxes lower for homeowners, LOST’s main stated goal.

Without LOST, a majority of residents across the county, whether they’re living in incorporated or unincorporated areas, would see a drastic property tax hike, according to the municipalities' accounting.

In some municipalities, property taxes could increase over 100% or even double. Bloomingdale a city of 2,800 and Vernonburg, a town of about 140 people, would likely have to levy their first-ever property tax.

Municipalities and county debate

The county’s proposed tax breakdown suggests biting off a chunk of Savannah’s share and leaving the smaller municipalities’ share the same. Savannah currently receives about 57% (or $55,570,286) of total LOST revenue.

According to Tuesday’s presentation, the county suggested decreasing Savannah’s portion to about 26%, which would yield a projected $26.5 million in LOST revenue for the city. On the flip side, the county would then receive 50% of the revenue (or about $53 million) as opposed to its current 23%.

Ellis argued that the county’s share is disproportionately low considering the number of services the county provides for all citizens of Chatham County — an estimated $140.8 million worth of services ranging from the county jail, courthouses and various public safety and public health resources.

Service delivery responsibilities are just part of the criteria for determining LOST shares. Georgia law outlines eight criteria for distributing LOST funds, including the point of sale that generates LOST proceeds, the effect of LOST funds on government debt and any existing intergovernmental agreements.

The City of Savannah has traditionally been the main draw for tourists and their dollars.

As part of Melder’s defense of the proposed 86% municipalities’ share, the Savannah city manager cited population growth as well. Citing U.S. Census data, Melder said 84% of Chatham’s overall growth from the past decade occurred in incorporated municipalities. While populations in unincorporated areas also grew, their share of the county’s population decreased.

Melder also buffered his argument with a quote from Clint Mueller of the Association County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG): “Typical LOST percentages only change by 2% to 3% every 11 years.”

“The reason why that’s true is because the best tax policies are tax policies that are steady and reliable and don’t fluctuate,” said Melder, who added that negotiations are still in their early stages.

In a previous negotiating session, the cities proposed an 88% LOST share, a number scaled back to 86% in Tuesday's presentation. The county’s proposal, initially at 55%, is now at 50%.

Nancy Guan is the general assignment reporter covering Chatham County municipalities. Reach her at nguan@gannett.com or on Twitter @nancyguann.

'Wish we had more choices': Garden City council candidates must address livability issues

Garden City's District 5, which is the most competitive races in the Nov. 2 municipal elections, sits next to the Georgia Ports. Residents say the locale magnifies the impact of industrialization.It’s around 10 a.m. when Josephine Robinson, a Garden City resident, pulls up to the railroad crossing intersecting Priscilla D. Thomas Way. The CSX train is rolling across the tracks and there’s no telling when exactly it’s going to pass.“Normally it’ll go pretty good,” said Robinso...

Garden City's District 5, which is the most competitive races in the Nov. 2 municipal elections, sits next to the Georgia Ports. Residents say the locale magnifies the impact of industrialization.

It’s around 10 a.m. when Josephine Robinson, a Garden City resident, pulls up to the railroad crossing intersecting Priscilla D. Thomas Way. The CSX train is rolling across the tracks and there’s no telling when exactly it’s going to pass.

“Normally it’ll go pretty good,” said Robinson, “but then it’ll stop and it can take up to an hour or two hours.”

First City Progress:Traffic, construction delays at Wilmington River bridge has costly impacts

Robinson and her children have no choice but to sit in the car and wait. Her family lives in a small neighborhood that is completely blocked off whenever the train crosses Thomas Way, their only way in and out. It’s an extreme case of what other Garden City residents have to deal with on a daily basis, living right next to one of Chatham County’s biggest economic drivers, the Georgia Ports Authority.

But for Robinson and about 20 other households, this extreme case is their reality. Residents who live in neighborhoods on Big Hill Road also face this issue unless they want to run the risk of traveling down a private rail street.

“You don't get used to it, you get upset," said Robinson. "You have to go to the bathroom or there's some emergency and you're behind schedule."

As the Nov. 2 municipal elections draws near, issues about livability, driven in large part by the city’s proximity to the South Atlantic region's busiest railway, dictate who residents want to see in charge of their local government.

Citizens of District 5, which sits closest to the ports, will choose between four candidates this year: incumbent Kim Tice and challengers Corey Foreman, Todd Payne and Chris Figiel.

A Garden City at-large seat is also up with Donna Williams facing previous council member Bruce Campbell. The District 1 seat, currently occupied by Marcia Daniel, is uncontested.

Issues of traffic, infrastructure and essential resources are Garden City residents' top concerns.

Garden City District 5 candidates must address traffic and resources

Garden City residents all deal with train and truck traffic from the GPA's Garden City Terminal to some extent. They also struggle with the growing number of warehouses and container yards, which some say detract from the livability of the city.

However, District 5 feels the effects at an acute level because it neighbors port property.

"I can sit in my backyard and hear the 'clang clang clang'," said Yvonne Blalock, a longtime resident who lives on Herty Avenue.

She said she's gotten used to the noise by now, but then recalls a time last year when her ambulance was stuck behind a train for 30 minutes, delaying treatment for COVID-19. Blalock said she was eventually taken to the hospital, but the dilemma illustrates residents' worst fears.

Over the years, Mayor Don Bethune said city officials have been able to work with the GPA to cut down wait times and the frequency of the blockages. The Mason Mega Rail project, which is scheduled for completion in 2022, will clear the track that runs across the city once it's finished.

However, the neighborhoods on Priscilla D. Thomas Way and Big Hill Road will still be enclosed.

"We're completely surrounded by nothing but traffic," said Foreman, who's lived in the city for two years.

When looking at the map, his district is bookended by Georgia 25 and Georgia 21.

Industrial development raises growth, zoning concerns

Foreman said one of his main goals, if elected, is to control the amount of industrial zoning happening around the city.

"Industry is always going to be here, but if you can't control industry and families and have that mixture, then Garden City isn't a city at that point. It's just an industrial town," said Foreman.

In order to do so, Foreman said residential zoning needs to be preserved and more housing must be developed. He also said he'd like to find more ways for the GPA to compensate residents for their industrial impact.

"When they're putting in a new railroad track, it's not for the benefit of the city, it's for the benefit of the ports," said Foreman.

However, the city's issue with spot zoning presents a challenge to preserving residential areas. Tice, the District 5 incumbent, said she's witnessed residents who become surrounded by industrial or commercial development and decide to move.

"They ask to change their properties from residential to commercial so they can get a fair market value off of their property," said Tice.

Bethune, the mayor, notes that the reason Garden City is able to keep their property taxes so low is because the businesses pay a large portion of it.

"Residents pay typically 12% of the total property tax we take in," said Bethune.

More:Crane operators regularly make more than $90,000 at Georgia Ports. Leadership makes $500,000-plus

Garden City's property tax rate (3.489 mills) is the lowest out of the municipalities in Chatham County, save for Bloomingdale and Vernonburg, which are much smaller in size and have a millage rate of zero.

Tice said her biggest concern is ensuring the safety of the residents and that they continue to have a decent living environment.

"The ports have worked with us in the past," said Tice. "They've made buffers trying to keep the noise reduction down. We also ensure that no 18-wheelers can park in front of their homes."

A call for better municipal management

Payne, who's lived in Garden City for almost eight years, said he thinks the city "has not been managed right."

"We need to do something to draw people here," said Payne. "There's only one grocery store here ... you can't sit down in Garden City and have a good meal."

Comprehensive Plan 2040:Chatham residents want more grocery stores and bike lanes, drainage issues fixed

Payne said he wants to see more resources for residents so that the city doesn't just become a place people pass through.

"You can't find anything essential here," said Payne.

Figiel, who works in hospitality management, said he also wants to see more grocery options in Garden City. Figiel has lived there for about a year and lived around the Coastal Empire prior to that.

"I've seen the area and seen how it's developed, and I've seen how Garden City is kind of getting left behind," said Figiel, "No one really thinks of Garden City, so how do we get out of that mindset?"

Figiel said he wants to improve the small business presence in the city.

"Some other cities have small business ambassadors who will go out when these new businesses open up and they'll help them out, but Garden City doesn't have that," said Figiel.

Della Magaña, who has been a resident since 1987 and lives in District 5, said she wishes Garden City had more of a sense of place. Sometimes she feels her neighborhood’s existence is in limbo.

“I keep waiting, I keep thinking they're (GPA) going to buy us out," she said.

That's one reason she's put off doing repairs on her house. Over the years, she's seen the few number of grocery stores in the city dwindle down to one, and the city hall move from her side of the city to the other.

“We need more choices," said Magaña, "I realize that nobody can make all the changes and things have to work in a system, but even the little things like a festival that would bring the residents together. Those will be the things we can see."

Nancy Guan is the general assignment reporter covering Chatham County municipalities. Reach her at nguan@gannett.com or on Twitter @nancyguann.

Savannah Tree Foundation celebrates their founders, 40 years of service with Green Gala

For Do SavannahIn the mid-to-late 1970s, Savannah, much like today, experienced a significant economic boom. Three community women were concerned about how the rapid growth was impacting trees and green spaces in the city: Lynda Beam, Suzie Williams and Page Hungerpiller joined forces and established the Savannah Tree Foundation.This Saturday, Savannah Tree Foundation celebrates its trailblazing founders and 40 years of growing and preserving the Hostess City’s iconic tree canopy. Green Gala festivities tak...

For Do Savannah

In the mid-to-late 1970s, Savannah, much like today, experienced a significant economic boom. Three community women were concerned about how the rapid growth was impacting trees and green spaces in the city: Lynda Beam, Suzie Williams and Page Hungerpiller joined forces and established the Savannah Tree Foundation.

This Saturday, Savannah Tree Foundation celebrates its trailblazing founders and 40 years of growing and preserving the Hostess City’s iconic tree canopy. Green Gala festivities take place outdoors and under the trees of Tiedman Park across from Savannah Arts Academy.

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Known as the Forest City and recognized by The Arbor Day Foundation as a Tree City USA, Savannah has a reputation for its lush, live oak tree-scapes. And thanks to the efforts and perseverance of three community leaders, Savannah’s canopy remains protected and growing.

“It’s actually a fantastic story,” recalled Zoe Rinker, the foundation’s executive director. “These women were all neighbors in the Vernonburg area, and they called themselves the Monday Morning Mothers of the Earth. Beam, Williams, and Hungerpiller sent out letters telling people why Savannah needed a tree ordinance, and they even presented their case at a Chatham County Commissioners meeting where they were laughed out of the room because they were seen as limiting development in the community. But the women didn’t give up. They launched Savannah Tree Foundation in 1982, and here we are today, green and growing, ready to celebrate.”

The Foundation has a long list of achievements in Savannah and Chatham County. The non-profit single-handedly protected the Candler Oak adjacent to Forsyth Park at Ruskin Hall. The largest tree in Georgia and estimated to be as many as 450 years old, the Candler Oak holds the only single-tree conservation easement in all of America. The organization also ensured the live oaks on White Bluff Road remained in place when it came time to widen that thoroughfare. And in 40 years, the Savannah Tree Foundation has partnered with neighborhoods and civic organizations to plant just over 5,000 trees throughout Chatham County.

“We are incorporating green practices and sustainability into the dinner event,” emphasized Rinker. “Our goal is to create as little trash as possible and minimize the overall carbon footprint of the evening.”

To do that, the organization is using compostable bamboo plates and utensils as well as corn-based cocktail cups. Savannah’s newest recycler, Lammergeier, will handle all glass recycling. Chef Nick Mueller caters the event’s four-course meal, focusing on additional vegan and vegetarian menu options. The silent auction is hosted completely online, eliminating all paper for the auction fundraiser.

Sonny Jelinek, director of Jelinek Cork Group, provides commemorative cork coasters for the special evening and is excited to be among sponsors of the event. His company has been in the cork industry since 1855 and has retail stores around the world, including one on Bay Street in Savannah.

“Our family business specializes in the promotion, production, and distribution of cork products. We work with this material from the forest until the final product and we are committed to sustainability,” said Jelinek. “It’s an honor that my company will be contributing to the evening. The cork tree is a type of oak, and its bark can be harvested without harming it. The cork tree is an ecologically friendly, renewable resource that fits with the mission of Savannah Tree Foundation.”

Steve Chick, president of Guerry Lumber, is also proud of the partnership his company has fostered over the years with the non-profit. Guerry Lumber is a local business in which Lynda Beam was once part owner.

“We understand this asset we have in our city. Our trees make Savannah a vibrant, beautiful place, and this is something that Lynda absolutely knew,” said Chick.

“Savannah Tree Foundation is a wonderful organization that focuses on tree health, tree planting, and community awareness to improve public green way. It’s remarkable that an idea from three women has grown into such a great community organization. Happy to help and am looking forward to another 40 years of good work.

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It’s been two year’s since the last Green Gala, and Savannah Tree Foundation is eager and ready to mix and mingle again. The annual fundraiser dinner accounts for more than half of the organization’s yearly fundraising budget.

“We see this as an opportunity to re-introduce ourselves to the Savannah community,” emphasized Rinker. “And tell the story of how we came to be. That if you believe in something and see its value at the greater community level for generations to come — and refuse to give up — that true intention and perseverance will yield great things. We’ve come so far in 40 years, and I’m excited to see how many more trees and green spaces the next 40 will bring to Savannah.”

IF YOU GO

What: Savannah Tree Foundation presents Green Gala

Where: Tiedman Park, Washington Ave, Savannah (across from Savannah Arts Academy)

When: Saturday, April 23, 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

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