Columbia County's highest-ranking non-elected official has been honored by a Georgia business and government magazine for excellence as a public servant.
County Administrator Steve Szablewski received Georgia Trend's 2007 Excellence in Public Service Award in the category for "county-appointed" officials. An article profiling Szablewski and four other honorees appears in the magazine's September issue.
Judges from the University of Georgia Carl Vinson Institute of Government, the Georgia Municipal Association and the Association County Commissioners of Georgia picked Szablewski and the other honorees for being "unsung heroes who make sure the quality of life remains high in communities across the state," according the magazine article.
As county administrator, Szablewski is the day-to-day manager of county government. A Columbia County planning director during the 1970s, Szablewski started his current role 17 years ago after serving in planning and administrative capacities in Atlanta, Thomson, Aiken County and Augusta.
He took his current job at a time when the county's finances were in dire straits.
Szablewski said when he started in 1990, rapid population growth forced the county to spend more than it received in tax revenue. He said in his tenure he has tried to focus on controlling expenses, making more conservative projections on revenue.
"It's not a one-person show," he said. "It's the accumulation of a lot of people working very hard."
Szablewski credits county staffers and commissioners for a financial turnaround that has seen the county move from having no bond rating to a AA bond rating. For taxpayers, that means lower interest rates when the county borrows money, as it did with the $43 million Capital Improvements Bond issuance approved by voters in 2006.
County commission Chairman Ron Cross said Szablewski is "underrated" and credited him for his leadership in the 2006 bond issuance, the 2004 smoking ban and the change in fire service to a countywide, 24-hour staffed system.
"He deserves a lot of credit for holding things together for all the years he's been there," Cross said. "I don't think there's a better administrator in the state or the Southeast."
Szablewski said he is honored by the award, but looks forward to completing capital improvements projects and making the county more efficient.
"We don't spend a whole lot of time patting ourselves on our backs, because we always have new challenges," he said.
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