Recently, The Blade had an opportunity to sit down with Mayor Charles Schwabe and discuss some of the current issues the City of Swainsboro is dealing with and what's to come in the future:
Blade: 2020 was a year that most folks would like to forget, but 2021 has had its own challenges as well. How do you see the recovery going in Swainsboro?
Mayor Schwabe: Well, let’s face it. 2020 was a very tough year that caught this country and every town in it totally unprepared. Covid-19 took lives, businesses, people’s plans and hopes for the future and just completely stopped everything cold. I think it showed us how fragile our lives, routines and schedules are, and it showed how much we all depend on the goodness of one another. But going forward, it also showed the strength of folks to keep going in hard times and do what they have to do. Looking ahead, I think 2021 will be one of our best years yet, but we have to get back as much as we can to what this community was before the pandemic. Many of our local businesses are still struggling because they cannot find employees to fill the jobs. I honestly never thought I would never see the day when there were more jobs available in Swainsboro than people to fill them. Some businesses are undecided about re-opening and I would just say to them that this community needs you and needs your business and needs everyone to get back to the lives and jobs and routines we had before the pandemic hit.
The next thing I would hope for and ask is for everyone who is medically able to please go ahead and get a vaccine and protect yourself and this community. Georgia is still at a low percentage of vaccinated people and if you want to be able to gather for cookouts, or football games or family reunions without fear then please go ahead and get that vaccine so you can go and do what you want to do.
Blade: What would you say are the greatest upcoming challenges for the City?
Mayor Schwabe: Of course, the budget is right up there at the top. Thankfully, the financial condition of the City is good. We continue to grow and I have the feeling that there is more promise and potential for growth and development now than there has been in a long time. Having said that, we still must be realistic. Taxes are high and my goal is for us to put together a budget that starts to provide some relief by lowering taxes. It can be done with cooperation, leadership and people working together. And that holds true in every other area as well. There is no way this town will be all the things we hope for unless folks join hands and work as one group. Progress in public safety, programs for our young folks, education, clean streets and neighborhoods and every other effort takes teamwork, and unfortunately it doesn’t always happen quickly.
A good example of that is the cleanup of the burned-out warehouse on Highway 80 leading into town. The City of Swainsboro was told by agencies of the state and federal government that they would be handling this matter. It has now been over two years ago since that building burned down, and we still have not seen any progress made out there. This makes our City look bad and it’s not acceptable to me or the council. In the past year I have had numerous conversations with various state officials concerning this. As recently as last month I wrote and asked for a review of this matter and the procedural process. I am waiting on a reply to that letter, but I guarantee you we will keep pushing to get that resolved. We're also working on a comprehensive program to rid the City of so many derelict structures all over town. These places make it easier for criminal behavior to carry on, as well as just bringing down property values and the morale of people who live around them. This costs the City money and it’s slow going when you have to involve courts and lawyers but when it hurts the whole community, something has to be done.
In other areas like public safety, there is real concern about violence, and especially gun violence. What I know is that there's not just one simple solution to this problem. As a City, we must try anything and everything that might help in changing the environment that allows this to go on. Starting in the home, then the churches, then in the community groups and with law enforcement, we have to work ourselves to make the good influences win over the bad. That's the only way we will change the trend. That's why the City is working right now with several groups to help supply the means and the material to provide options and alternatives for young folks. They are looking for direction in the choices they make and how they see themselves and their future. We can't stop trying, and I always want to hear any ideas and advice from anybody that has another way to go at it. Enough people with enough good ideas can make the difference.
Blade: You have served several terms as Mayor. How do you see Swainsboro now compared to when you first took office?
Mayor Schwabe: You know, it’s kind of hard to be completely objective about your own hometown, but I do think we have accomplished quite a few significant things in the last few years. First of all, our population has steadily increased at a time when many small towns have become smaller. Our business community has certainly grown and our manufacturing sector has also. We have been able to use grants and special programs and sales tax revenue to make sure property taxes have not skyrocketed while at the same time building a new fire station, police station and completing a major renovation of our waste water treatment plant. Soon we will start on a new water tank that will be paid for largely with grant funding.
When I first became Mayor, we had just been informed that Swainsboro had won the competition to become the site of one of the largest wood products manufacturing facilities in the Southeast. That was about six months before the housing bubble hit and the plans we were so excited about were cancelled. That hurt, but we didn't quit, and I think that's what you do as a Mayor. We live in a small town but we don't think small, and you don't quit. You are responsible for nearly 8,000 folks and six departments and nearly 65 employees. That takes some doing and it takes some dedication. Dreams are fine, but if you can't turn them into reality, you’re just wasting time. I don't think we've wasted much time in the last few years and I think, looking ahead, Swainsboro will be just fine.