In a surprising move Monday night, Swainsboro City Council voted unanimously on sending three projects out to bid in anticipation of using funds coming down the pipe from different sources. The approvals were handled independently of one another but are, on the whole, indicative of a united council on this front at least. This comes at a much-needed time as deadlines for the funding sources are approaching and, beyond that, council has needed to right the ship in terms of agreeability amongst one another as the mayor and six-person committee have been unable to accomplish much in the past few meetings.
Additionally, the group created a position, a city finance director. Chu Lin Ooi was hired to fill the capacity upon returning to open session from executive at the end of the evening. The vote was 6–0 to do so.
Ahead of the monthly meeting for March, Mayor Greg Bennett asked the council representatives to prepare a “want, need, dream” list, outlining projects in each category as desired individually. A few commonalities were found upon review of each council person’s submitted list.
First and foremost, all in the group agreed on the need to finish the gymnasium.
Secondly, all of council saw fit to finish the theatre.
Lastly, the six leaders listed Robin Road as a necessity to address.
All three of these projects have been ongoing in their own ways for quite some time now.
Mayor Bennett began the discussion on a high note, commending the councilpersons for finding common ground on which to spend ARPA and SPLOST dollars. He went on to suggest council obtain three bids for all of the projects, and the group agreed to adhere to that recommendation.
The plans for the gymnasium have been received from the architect already, and one related item of business saw the city agree to pay Trent Hall for his services connected to the project. The vote was 6–0.
In reference to the theatre discussion, the mayor stated he had been in contact with the County of Emanuel, who committed to putting up more money for the restoration of the Green Street facility, contingent upon the city doing the same. Once the bids have been received, another conversation with the county will take place, then the city will re-evaluate its dollars for the project. Again, the vote was 6–0.
Finally, the group discussed the Robin Road undertaking, which has been intended to be addressed several times but abandoned in the past. Councilperson Julian Sconyers raised a question about the legality of the project, and the group agreed to let the city attorney look into the matter. Three bids will be sought regardless with the intention of moving forward with the repairs on Robin Road, should the legality of the project allow as expected. Once again, the vote passed without opposition 6–0.
Mayor Bennett then brought the group up to date on a previously approved project which will replace the town’s water meters. Originally, three bids were intended to be received. However, five bids have come in, and the mayor suggested reviewing all five instead of limiting them to three. Council agreed with this suggestion as well. No action was required for this discussion item.
Perhaps the most impressive showing of a united front came at the end of this four-point discussion as the group voted to add another meeting to its schedule.
Currently, Swainsboro City Council meets only once monthly, every first Monday. Meeting every 30 days makes for a longer wait period to discuss business and take action. Thus, the group heard out a suggestion from the mayor to meet a second time, the second Monday of each month, so as to quicken the handling of city matters. The vote went 5–1 with councilperson Johnny Ray Stafford opposing.
Mayor Bennett pitched the idea as part of the four-point discussion about city projects when councilperson John E. Parker mentioned an April deadline looming; Swainsboro must submit its list of proposed projects for the American Rescue Plan Act next month, and waiting to meet to discuss the bids received for the three aforementioned undertakings might threaten the town’s eligibility to be considered for these federal funds.
Other positive news from Monday’s meeting was as follows.
• Signage will be installed in honor of the 1969 Emanuel County Rattlers girls’ track state champions as well as the 2007 Swainsboro High School boys’ track state champions. These signs will be installed at the four main entrances to Swainsboro, thanks to a unanimous vote by council on Monday evening.
• Council unanimously approved the hiring of a new police officer, Michael Purvis. As an employee of Candler County Sheriff’s Office, he joins the force already certified and lives just 6 miles from town. Purvis’s hiring leaves only one vacancy within the department.
• Council unanimously voted to purchase a Ford Explorer to add to the police fleet. The quote came in at $38,100 total, including necessary accessories like lights, sirens, and a protective interior cage. The purchase will be subtracted from already budgeted funds and re-addresses an expense request and approval that took place as part of the February council meeting. At that time, the police department requested two Dodge Chargers, and the council granted the request. However, since that time, those Chargers are no longer available and police vehicles are in limited supply. The approval that took place Monday night will allow Swainsboro Police Department to pre-order one of the few available Explorers on the market today.
• Swainsboro City Council also considered advertising bid requests for the 2021 and 2022 LMIG projects. Look for the names of streets that will potentially be addressed by LMIG (as well as TIA) to be advertised in the newspaper, the city’s website, and on Facebook in the future. The vote to advertise bid requests was unanimous as well.
• Council unanimously voted to approve the airport face covering policy resolution as discussed during the group’s February meeting. In this same vein, the group unanimously voted to approve the sexual harassment prevention policy resolution as discussed last month as well.
• Fire Chief Mike Strobridge went before council and informed the group that the fire department had recently been evaluated on a number of elements, such as its equipment and maintenance, documentation of daily operations, response times, and more. Swainsboro Fire Department, according to Strobridge, is currently at 100 percent compliance.
• A citizen who owns property on Brown Street, Matthew Bright Jr., was given the floor and spoke to council about issues dating back years involving the sewer system, which has caused flood damage to his home multiple times. Mayor Bennett is scheduled to meet with Bright, along with Public Works, next week. This will be “step one” in resolving the issue.
• Council unanimously voted to pay an oustanding attorney bill for the month of February. The total for this payment came in at $8,878.97.
• Council agreed to lease the veterans center on a 29-day agreement, which will be renewed at that same interval moving forward so as to ensure the city is in compliance with state statutes for such leasing. The agreement as previously proposed in a prior meeting would’ve had the city agreeing to a lease of six months instead. The vote was 5–1 with Collins opposing.
In other news:
• Council voted 3–3 on an increase in garbage disposal fees. Sam Sullivan with Allgreen came forward and gave a history of the company’s partnership with Swainsboro, then outlined the reason for the proposed increase. Currently, Swainsboro stands as Allgreen’s longest-running partner and as such, Swainsboro offers the cheapest rate to its citizens among any of the 30 providers Allgreen partners with. The city’s cost is $9.60 per cart right now, and due to inflation, Sullivan and company were asking for the town to agree to go up to a cost of $12 per cart. The cost to citizens right now is $15.10 per cart. Council entertained a minutes-long debate about the need to increase citizens’ cost and eventually settled on going up by $2 and “eating” $0.40, which will essentially equate to a small deficit in the budget, around $15,000, that can be made up elsewhere down the road. Mayor Bennett cast the deciding vote to approve the new cost, which will be $12 at the city level and $17.50 for citizens. Even with the increase, Swainsboro still boasts the cheapest garbage disposal rate of any Allgreen participating city.
• Council heard from Tobe Karrh of the Planning and Zoning Committee regarding the preliminary plat of Mojo Bennett Enterprises’ new subdivision off Fairground Road Extension. The committee granted variances on the width of the roads and left the discussion about water and sewage up to the city as those two elements, according to Karrh, “more properly lies” with the town’s leadership. This prompted a lengthy discussion about Bennett’s development, particularly with whom the financial responsibility lies regarding the cost of running water and sewer to the property and its homes. A representative from Clearwater, Larry Arnett, joined in this discussion, providing his initial thoughts on the capacity of the water lines and lift stations as they stand today that will be involved in the expansion for the development. Bennett interjected, offering the most economical way for the city to proceed: to allow the property to put in its own water system. In doing so, the city would still register these homes on the tax base while costing the city 0 dollars. Ultimately, Sconyers motioned to allow the development to use an on-site community water system. The vote fell 3–2 with Parker and councilperson Greg Quarterman opposing. Mayor Pro Tem Bobbie Collins carried the motion and couldn’t vote; Bennett, on the other hand, had to abstain from the action altogether.
• Council rescinded the hiring of a firefighter that took place in February due to a paperwork issue. The vote passed 5–1 with Davis opposing.
Swainsboro City Council will next meet March 14 at 6 p.m. at City Hall.