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City Council sets millage rate and addresses 15 items

By Deanna Ryan

Swainsboro City Council met on October 3, 2022 at city hall to discuss 15 items of business including local food pantry demolition, allocation of surplus properties, selecting construction companies for the gym and theater, selecting an engineering firm to assess city drainage issues, hiring of a shelter employee, paying off lawyers fees, negotiating with the county on financial responsibilities, setting the millage rate and other budgetary concerns. All council members were in attendance.

The first item was to consider a 5-minute rule for citizens addressing the council. The motion passed 4-2.

In response to a previous council concern that the Main Street Market was being damaged due to leaking coming from the food pantry, Kristin Hall of the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) addressed the council about the food pantry’s condition. She stated the building is in “terrible shape” and “there is money in the DDA account for the demolition of the property.” The motion to move forward with the demolition was passed 6-0.

Approval of an alcohol license application for Shaishav Patel Cruz at A&D Mart located at 504 East Main Street.

The Council read and voted on the sealed bids of the following city surplus properties: 417 Lewis Street went to Ida McMillan for $1, 409 Howard Street received five bids and went to Deandra Coleman for $3,300, 408 Gumlog Road went to Tanisha Wadley for $565, Brown Street property went to Vincent Jones for $1,501, King Circle Drive went to Elaine Jones Connor and Robert Connor for $2,550, Sycamore Street property went to Logan Fuller for $4,200, 429 North Green Street lot went to Jennifer Jones for $1,001, and two Lake Luck property lots went to Logan Fuller for $3,000 and $1,500. No bids were received for North Green Street plot number S23-148.

Two bids were considered for the gym project. BAK Builders of Statesboro previously put in a bid for the theater and Mayor Bennett noted the city would save $50,000 if they went with BAK since they will negotiate for a lower price once the council gives its approval. Motion to accept BAK for both the gym and theater construction passed.

Requests for quotes were received for on-call engineering services. According to Mayor Bennett all of the firms were solid choices although they varied in size and “generally the smaller they are the more attention, while the larger ones offer more services.” The seven firms considered were: Falcon Design, Turnipseed Engineers, Roberts Civil Engineering, M.E. Sack, Goodwyn Mills Cawood, EMC Engineering Services, Carter & Sloope. Councilman Davis noted that the bigger firms were often capable of seeking more grants. Parker asked which group had the best understanding of Swainsboro. The Mayor stated, “All of them have done work in Swainsboro over the last twenty years.” Davis made a motion to go with Roberts. Councilman Sconyers seconded the motion because of the size of the firm and their proximity. It was noted that of all the firms only Roberts Engineering had a member who had stayed for the meeting. It was also noted that the company has approximately 40 employees. Councilman Stafford made a motion to go with Sack. The motion to choose Roberts Engineering was brought to the table again and passed 6-0.

Jerome Bynes gave an update on the Veterans Recycling Center of Swainsboro. Since the last meeting he attended, wire recycling bins have been placed at the Quick Clean Laundromat and Mojos Spirits. Larger amounts of plastic and cardboard can be neatly bagged and stacked at the recycling center on Thursdays. Bynes noted that the one plastic bailer is in one of the buildings not under his lease and that there is a forklift, not in use, that needs to be maintained. He offered to maintain it so it could be used for recycling. A motion was made for the lease to be amended to include both buildings for the next 29 days. Mayor Bennett requested that the lease continue to be renewed without Bynes having to request it from the council every month.City attorney Jon Levis asked if there was anyone licensed to drive the forklift. Bynes responded that he was licensed. A motion for the Veterans Recycling Center to borrow and maintain forklift passed.

Matthew Bright was on the agenda to address drainage issues at 245 Brown Street and 167 Gumlog Road properties. He was told the engineering firm would be addressing drainage problems. Bright then went on to voice complaints with the Council about money. Councilman Davis asked for specific problems that needed to be addressed. No specific instances were provided. Bright requested to be put on the next agenda.

Debbie Hudson Dubberly addressed the council about drainage problems at the Dudley-Hudson Funeral Home property. Her request is the second of three that are being provided to the engineering firm. Dubberly asked if she was going to be reimbursed for storage and how long the easement will take. Mayor Bennett said it will rely upon the insurance company's response.

Council discussed the request for using Appalachian Mountain Services for the collection of delinquent ad valorem taxes. Councilman Stafford made a motion to keep collections in house. The motion was passed 6-0.

Chris Morton with Clearwater Solutions addressed the council for a Mack truck. He explained he doesn’t want to get into a situation where they would need one and not have one to respond to emergency situations. Mayor - we could sell the old mack truck. Morton - Doesn’t suggest it because it still is of some use for minor tasks and a good back up. The price of a new Mack truck was quoted at $175,000 while a used one was $85,000 with over 300,000 miles. Councilman Parker asked if a new one could be bought with the Special Purpose Local Options Sales Tax (SPLOST) fund. City administrator Kirby agreed that it could. The motion was made to buy a new Mack truck for $150,000 from the SPLOST fund. It passed 4-2.

Morton also addressed the need for soft starters to safely and efficiently bring motors to full speed at the Water Treatment Plant. According to Morton, the parts are about 12 years old and the average life expectancy of the parts are 10 years. “Low Electric is offering eight of the same model for $17,600.” Davis asked how far eight would take the plant and Morton responded “another 10 years.” The motion passed 6-0.

Chief Ellison requested Council consider hiring Courtney Wilkerson to be hired on full time at the animal shelter. The motion passed.

Blue Denhan, animal rescue worker, addressed concerns with the animal shelter. First he addressed a statement made by the city attorney back in August about city property removed by the Humane Society. The attorney stated something about being able to charge individuals removing property. He requested to know the city's definition of “tangible property.” Levis stated he was making a point that the council should have a policy in place with its employees that city property is returned at the cessation of work. “It was a general position because we need to have a policy.” Denhan says his wife’s integrity was being called into question because she purchased a book while she was in a volunteer position at the shelter, and she felt she was being accused of stealing property. Levis said this was not the intent of the council and made a formal apology on behalf of the council. Denhan suggested conversations need to take place between the city and county about how to improve conditions at the animal shelter and the importance of finding and retaining people who care. “I watched my wife do it for seven years, and it is a tireless thankless job. It is an emotionally draining job.” The Mayor and Council thanked Denham’s wife for her help.

The Council discussed paying the additional attorney fees for the two-year Oliver Manor Invoice/Jacob lawsuit that was resolved in July. Councilman Stafford stated, “We voted to hire them.” A motion to pay the final attorney bill came to 3-3 among the council members. The Mayor broke the tie in favor of paying the bill.

Jacqueline Brantley addressed the council about the blighted property adjacent to hers on South Green Street. She’s had snakes and black sewer rats coming to her house from the dilapidated property. Brantley has spoken to Bruce Kirby, the Swainsboro Police Department Code Enforcer. Mayor Bennett asked if the property owners paid the taxes. Chief Ellison responded by saying the owners have not been served with delinquent tax notification, so he could only assume the taxes were paid. Davis asked if they received a letter to clean up the property. According to code enforcer Kirby, a letter has been sent but not signed. Brantley requested something be done because she has requested help more than once from the city. Levis said he could get together with code enforcer Kirby to see what could be done.

To have a clearer picture of the city’s actual budget, Mayor Bennett addressed the council about the general account. He stated city finance director Chu Lin Ooi projected the city would have $1.8 million dollars by December 1st in the general account. He proposed that the $340,000 OMI fees be paid off by November 30th to clean it off the books. The motion passed.

Following along the lines of the city budget, Mayor Bennett asked the Council to enter into negotiations to revise the current intergovernmental agreement on the recreation department, animal shelter, and airport. “We’ve had negotiations all year with the county on Local Options Sales Tax (LOST) and SPLOST. We only get 32.5%-34% of these taxes. The reason being is we represent 32.5% of the county. Now, we don’t pay 32.5% of these bills. We pay half of these bills. The city should not be paying 50% of the animal shelter when 65% of the dogs come from other parts of the county. We are paying 50% when we should be paying 32.5%. If it’s okay for them to give us 32.5% for our income, we need to do the same thing on our expenses.” Mayor Bennett motioned to renegotiate with the county to pay our rightful share and not be overcharged for the airport, animal shelter and recreation department. The motion passed 6-0.

Mayor Bennett provided 2023 Budget for the Council to view. Parker requested more time to look through the budget before voting. Council members discussed the millage rate. Mayor said, “Two years ago, the millage rate was 19.45%. We worked on a budget to get the millage rate down to 14.495%. The millage rate is going down enough to help the citizens.” The Council unanimously passed the motion to set the millage rate at 14. 191%.

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