top of page

City tightens blight and stormwater policies

Adapted by Deanna Ryan from Swainsboro city minutes/recording

The regular meeting of the Mayor and City Council was held Monday, April 10, 2023 at 6:00 p.m. at Swainsboro City Hall. All members were present, including city attorney Jon Levis and newly appointed city administrator Herman Middlebrooks. Pastor Gary Hackett, Home of the Apostle Outreach Ministry led the gathering in prayer.

Before the meeting commenced, a public hearing was held on the proposed Blight Ordinance changes. Attorney Levis stated the alterations were necessary to put the city in compliance with upcoming changes that will take place at the state level beginning July 2023. The ordinance will allow the city to utilize the county’s process and revenue officer. The city will be deleting the sections of the ordinance that are inconsistent with state and county ordinances.

Chief Randy Ellison explained that enforcement will come from the building inspector who will determine if a property is blighted. If the property is considered blighted, he will send a letter to the taxed owner who will have an allotted amount of days to correct the issue. If no action is taken by that time, a follow-up letter will be sent. If still no action is taken, the police will follow up with a municipal court citation. Then the municipal court judge will provide a deadline for action where the property can be torn down or remedied at the owner’s expense. The cost of remedying the situation would be placed as a lien on the owner’s property taxes. If the owner refuses to pay the taxes, the city takes over ownership of the property.

Concerned citizen Jacqueline Brantley stood up and asked for the time frame for sending out letters and waiting. She has been addressing the blighted property beside her house with the council for over a year. Ellison said the city has sent out two letters already to the property beside her house, so the procedure would be expedited.

Councilperson D.J. Davis clarified that there is a difference between nuisance and blight, and this strictly pertains to blight issues.

Also during the public hearing, the council discussed the Storm Water Management Extent of Service Policy. Levis noted that with the input of the public works department and city council, a policy was created to address the city’s responsibilities of stormwater management based on location, proprietorship, property function and legal standing. It would identify property as private, quasi-public, and public and place the burden on the city to address, mediate and maintain the public sections of the water and stormwater drainage systems. Some quasi-public areas where the city has already taken ownership control and dominion and the city would not be required to take over private property. The policy is consistent with Georgia law and is being spelled out so that it is clear to all citizens. It also allows the city to act in case of emergency on private property when necessary to prevent damage to property or life along with allowing the city to enter into agreements with homeowners called the drainage improvement agreement that would allow them to address those issues.

Levis continued, “One thing we have been looking at is trying to have policies, so everybody understands what everybody’s obligations are and what can be done. This policy is based on a policy from another larger municipality. We made changes to it to put it in line with what our city is doing. I would imagine that this will need amending downstream, down the road, as we look at the implementation of it to make sure it is addressing issues in a way that’s effective for the city’s drainage system.”

Councilperson John E. Parker asked if the policy would affect any pending issues with Bright, Dubberly, or Robin Road. Mayor Bennett replied no it would not. During the regular session the policy was passed 6-0.

By the end of the public hearing, Mayor Bennett introduced the new city administrator, Mr. Herman Middlebrooks, and stated that one of the things on his plate was to put all policies and ordinances online, to get the city up to date. Currently, free copies of the Blight Ordinance and the Stormwater Management Extent Service Policy are available to the public at Swainsboro City Hall. They were also provided to the public attending the meeting.

Councilperson Parker made a motion to amend the agenda to add two agenda items under New Business. One the family of Nina Bennett would like to address the council and Ronald Moore, Chairman of downtown get down will give an update on their first event. The motion passed unanimously.

Minutes of the March 6th regular meeting and the March 9th Special Call Zoom Meeting were presented and accepted.

In old business, the council unanimously approved a game room license application for Maheshkumar Patel, owner of Mike's Food Mart located at 505 North Main Street. Councilperson Parker clarified that if a person won, the store would provide the winner with a gift card that could be used at the store, with no cash handed out.

Concerned citizen and veteran Rita Faulkner addressed the council on behalf of the Robin Road Project. At the last meeting Faulkner asked about the engineer’s report. Since the last meeting she has received the engineering report and the entire Robin Road file. She asked the council multiple questions surrounding the Robin Road project and requested that the council revote on the subcommittee for this project. A previous engineering report said that the issue could be fixed for about $75,000 but when the project was bid out. No bids were received. Mayor Bennett responded that a topographical survey is needed to move forward with this project and the city has received two quotes. He further stated that this item will be on the next city council agenda.

In new business, the council heard from columnist Ron Moore with an update on the Downtown Get Down event. Mr. Moore thanked everyone for their role in making the first annual multicultural, food truck festival. The idea was to bring the city together to do things in the downtown area. Many vendors sold out. The next event will be July 1st in conjunction with the annual Jaycees fireworks show. East Georgia College will also host a future event. Different bands performed all day throughout the night. All citizens were represented. Mayor Bennett thanked Ron Moore for putting it together. A big thanks went out to all the police involved. The mayor stated the goal is to have these types of events four times a year at no cost to the citizens.

Pastor Timothy Irving Bennett addressed the council with a series of questions following the passing of his mother. What is the protocol for someone in distress in Emanuel County who is trying to reach a hospital or EMT? What is the same protocol for that same person in distress twenty minutes later? What is the same protocol for that same person in distress forty minutes later? How is the system of first responders set up here? What is the protocol when your mother dies in front of you after eleven calls to EMT’s here in Emanuel County? The mayor advised council that they’re not to comment on any matter at this time and apologized on behalf of the council for the untimely passing of his mother.

City Council unanimously awarded the car lift bid to Mr. Ray Cox in the amount of $800 and the purchase of radio and lights for the new police car at $8,282 (from SPLOST funds).

Items on purchase of a new fire engine and the hiring of two new firemen were removed from the agenda.

Concerning public works, Council approved repairs for lift station 18 and 21. Councilperson Parker asked if we had a letter from GWI saying that they were the sole source provider. Chris Morton of Clearwater stated he will provide the letter.

Morton addressed the council about the new lead service regulations, providing them with the guidelines pertaining to the new lead and copper rule revision. The city has already complied with the first step by submitting the letter of intent. The next step will be to get quotes on lead service line inventory.

James Ward with the Swainsboro Jaycees discussed the Annual Freedom Fest events scheduled for July 1st. Ward asked permission to host the 2nd annual freedom fest downtown in conjunction with the Downtown Get Down on July 1st and to seek road closures for Main and Main for the Red, Wet, and Blue parade. He also requested that Green Street be closed for the kid events, which will include the Splash Zone provided by the Swainsboro Fire Department. The Council approved all events and street closures.

Councilperson Julian Sconyers motioned to amend the agenda to talk about the water, sewer, and garbage rates. City administrator Middlebrooks advised council of a call received from Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA) concerning lack of revenue. Councils will revisit this item at the next council meeting and will consider an increase in the water, sewer, and garbage rates.