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City adds ballot item and moves ahead on several others

By Deanna Ryan

On Monday July 18, 2022, the Swainsboro City Council met to discuss seven items in old business and fourteen items in new business.

In old business, the council discussed approving game room licenses for seven different Main Street convenient stores: Mini Mart, Emanuel Discount, Raco, ABC Food Mart, and T’s Place were included in these. Councilperson DJ Davis asked if the citizens who win the game receive cash value or store credit value? Owner of Mini Mart, Arvind Patel said winners could only get “lottery tickets or merchandise or gas.” Davis responded, “So they can’t come in and play the machines and ‘here’s two hundred dollars in cash’. They can’t do that?” “No cash,” the Patel said. Council approved (6-0) the game room license for the Mini Mart and six subsequent stores along Main Street.

The fourteen new items began with a quick word from local La Rosita owner, Julian Cortez Cruz, requesting consideration of an alcoholic beverage license for an advertisement. This motion was approved unanimously.

The second item was presented by the current president of East Georgia State College (EGSC), Dr. David L. Schecter, who showed up in his Miami Dolphins attire with his lucky gnome to address the council about the local ban on the sale of alcohol on Sundays. Dr. Schecter, a recent homeowner and former city council member of Ormond Beach, Florida, noticed, “There is no establishment here for law-abiding, legal-aged citizens and their guests to have a beer and, in my case, watch a Dolphins’ game” on Sundays. Councilman Stafford stated the item had been “put on the ballot here and voted down.” Dr. Schecter went on to say, “At this point what I’d ask is for the leadership to reconsider putting [this item] on the ballot for voters to decide.” His reasons as to why the item should be reintroduced: neighboring towns are getting more Swainsboro dollars for dining on Sunday because they are more inviting, many business chains will not open in a community with a ban on alcohol sales on Sunday because it cuts deeply into profits, and finally, local dining would greatly benefit from customers being able to drink a beer and watch games together on Sundays. He added a bit of irony at the end, “I can’t buy beer at Harvey’s or Walmart on Sunday… but I can go eleven miles from this spot right here on Sunday, drive over to Twin City, and I can buy whatever I need.” Councilman Stafford noted again that the item passed in Twin City, “but it didn’t here.” The EGSC president noted the football season was about to start again and that he didn’t “want to go to Dublin or Statesboro this year” and that “it would be awesome if” local baseball and football fans had a couple of places to go to in Swainsboro to have safe, law-abiding fun on a Sunday.” He finished by promising if the item were put back on the ballot that he would do everything he could to support it in the community. Mayor Bennett said to council, “We’re never going to get a chain up and running, Longhorn or places like them, because we don’t sell alcohol on Sunday. If we need to stay in the past, let’s stay in the past. If we’re going to go to the future, let’s go to the future.”Councilman Parker said, “If this city is going to grow, if this city is going to be a city that’s on the move.” Parker went on to motion for the item to be added to the upcoming ballot for the citizens to decide. The motion passed 4-2 with Sconyers and Stafford opposed. Dr. Schecter gathered his gnome, thanked the council and said, “Let me know how I can help.”

As the next item for new business, Pat Lincoln presented a petition from the residents on Harmon Road to have two speed bumps installed because of the ‘excessive speeds’ of those using the street as a short cut. She had the signatures from every resident on the street agreeing to the need for speed bumps as requested by Councilman Stafford. He noted this and made a motion to put the bumps down with Police Chief Ellison and Chris Morton, project manager at Clearwater Solution, making the decisions for their location.

Swainsboro Fire Department Chief Strowbridge sought approval from the council for the purchase of annually budgeted firefighter uniforms. The total cost was $9,013. Councilman Davis asked for clarification on the varying figures listed in the budget. Chief Strowbridge explained that anyone with the fire department for over a year has an allotment of $400, no more. Each firefighter has different needs and new hires need more. Chief Strowbridge also requested approval for the hiring of Faith Jones. Both items were unanimously approved.

Chris Morton project manager of Clearwater Solutions presented four items to the council. The first was a quote from Wilson Electric Company for $10,000 for the repairs of two aerators at the wastewater treatment plant. The second was a quote for two replacement pumps for the lift station totaling $34,000 that come with an 18 month total warranty. Both were approved unanimously. The third item addressing the grinding and removal of the natural debris piles and routine grinding and removal of the piles in the inert landfill, took a bit longer to address. Morton stated the previous piles were ground and removed, but there were still two piles and unfortunately one pile caught on fire and the (Environmental Protection Division) EPD came in. The fire was the result of dry heat, humidity, density, height and the age of the pile. When these conditions are met, decomposition causes the pile to spontaneously ignite. “It’s never a good thing when you have to call the EPD and say we have a boo-boo.” The EPD, however, was very pleased with how the problem was handled. “They came out and paid us a visit and said we were doing a good job and resolved the issue without fines and without violations at all,” but they did question the grinding schedule. As a general rule, leaf piled in inert land pits are to be removed every 90 days. That means, if you bring in a pile in January, by April that pile should be gone and accounted for. “We have one last old pile and the bid is $35,000.” The pile costs so much money because it’s very old and in bad shape. The older the pile, the more difficult they are to remove and the fewer materials removal companies can actually use. And the older the pile, the greater the chance for internal combustion. Councilman Parker asked where the $35,000 would come from. Morton noted if the city was fined for not removing the pile, the cost would be $75,000. He also mentioned that once the old pile is removed, there’s a need for a future maintenance program which is $23 a ton, based on the minimum billing of a thousand tons. “So you are looking at $23,000 every 6 months or so,” said Morton, “which is the frequent flyer rate.” Mayor Bennett requested to focus on approval of removing the last major pile and address approving maintenance costs in four to five months. The council agreed unanimously.

The last item proposed by Morton was based upon, “six sites throughout the city that get dammed up by beavers and cause us a lot of heartache and manpower hours clearing out the dams just to come out in another 30 days and have them there again. Norwood Avenue, swamp avenue, is a horrible site for that.” He proposed that the city hire Josh Hall, president of the Georgia Chapter of Trappers Committee who works with the Department of Natural Resources. Hall is a licensed, bonded, insured commercial trapper. “We had a beaver in our clarifier,” Morton said, “and [Hall] came out and got it for us.” Hall requests a contract of $250 a month to monitor any and all sites the city deems necessary. He checks up to three locations monthly. Mayor Bennett asked if Hall would write reports. Morton agreed he would. The council approved the motion.

Mayor Greg Bennett presented the final three items before the council. The first two items were regarding the on-going Gumlog Gym and Karah Center Theatre construction projects. Mayor Bennett and Councilman Parker conducted interviews with several construction companies. Bennett noted, “It’s way more beneficial for the city to hire the same company to do both projects” because all of the companies said they would cut back on some of the fees and would renegotiate the price if this happened. BAK Builders from Statesboro was chosen by both Bennett and Parker as the best pick because the company had already worked with the theatre. It’s estimated that it will take 9 months to a year to complete the theatre and 6 months to complete the gym. The current quote on the theatre is 1.5 million and on the gym is $775,000, but this is before renegotiating. Bennett said the motion was to pick a contractor so they could start renegotiating to see what the actual price would be. Even though Bennett felt all of the contractors were qualified, he said, “BAK Builders is the most familiar with work already.” The council approved to get the hard numbers on gym and theatre construction from BAK. Administrator Kirby reminded the group that some of the funding for construction would come from the SPLOST which has not been passed yet.

The third item presented by Bennett was the proposition of a skateboard park. “A group came to me about doing something for the kids around here because we really don’t have anything for them to do. And this group is going to do all the engineering for free. They are going to donate all the metal for free. We have one company who will sell us the cement at cost.” They also want to put an eight foot circle around the whole park for people who would rather use roller skates. “We can’t afford a skating rink, but we can afford a skating park outside,” Bennett said. Even better yet, he “went to the county and the county agreed to pay half of it, if we’ll pay half.” The estimated cost is around $80-100,000. The park would be open for no charge. Funding was discussed. Councilman Davis questioned liability and asked if everyone entering the park would have to sign a waiver. Mayor Bennett said that this was an attorney question, but that many cities have figured out how to have a skating park and they could approach these cities about how they do it. Lyons is one. The council approved getting prices for the project.

Three items had to be postponed until more information was gathered or clarifications were made.

Billy Palmer of Dellwood Baptist Church requested to use 417 Lewis Street as an outreach center for the church. Palmer proposed the church maintain the building, pay the water bill, taxes and insurances while using the building as a “community center for the church at large in Emanuel and surrounding counties.” Council members Parker and Bobbie Collins recalled in 2016 that the building was awarded to Reverend McMillan. Palmer stated, “The only way we intend to be able to grow this community center is by it not being just us. We intend on other churches partnering up with us… including the people who may have been there previously. Maybe they just ran out of funds and need somebody to help them. The more people who go to working on it, we ought to be able to get some positive results.” Councilwoman Collins mentioned, “Once you give someone something or say you can use it, then I think you need to get some clarity before you do something else with it.” Motion was passed to postpone the decision on 417 Lewis Street until clarification is made on previous use of the facility.

Council also postponed consideration of the bid for the 2021-22 LMIG (local maintenance and improvement grant) regarding the paving of six local roads for next session when there’s more clarity on the cost of paving each road. City administrator Mellisa Kirby recommended that “Chris Morton go out and get a list of the streets [that need paving] and make sure they aren’t on the TIA (transportation investment act) list because then we’ll double pave them.” She also suggested the group make sure to prioritize roads based on need. This was backed by Mayor Bennett who said that before they met again, it would be good for all council members to, “go to their own neighborhoods and pick the worst roads.”

The final item to be postponed was Mayor Bennett’s request for the council’s approval to enter discussions with the county to take over the airport. Councilman Davis requested more information and clarity on the revenue the city receives from hanger and fuel fees to determine if there is anyway to make the airport an asset for the city.

During executive session, Elizabeth Gilmore was approved as the new Downtown Development Authority director.

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