LaGrange mayor looks back

Published 1:40 pm Wednesday, January 1, 2020

The City of LaGrange continued to experience growth in 2019, with more miles of The Thread in the ground, a new skate plaza opening at Southbend Park, a growing population and a reinvented tourism program launching during the year.

LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton said the city is excited to continue to build on its accomplishments in the upcoming year, while looking for other ways to improve.

“I think we continued to make a lot of progress in 2019,” Thornton said. “The city continues to experience growth, and new residents are coming to our community. I feel like we have really made some tremendous progress on The Thread and some of the other recreational amenities in the community.”

The Thread had completed its first three segments by the end of the year, but with a goal to complete 13 miles of trails by the end of 2022, the project is only getting started with the major recreation project, which the city hopes will also yield the same economic benefits that similar trails have provided elsewhere. Other park needs are also currently under consideration with the city’s park study.

“I’m very excited about the comprehensive park study that we have underway,” Thornton said. “I think we will continue to see expansions of our quality of life amenities.”

Those improvements are expected to feed into other improvements and efforts, such as the city’s ongoing efforts to infuse life into downtown LaGrange.

“I think we definitely would like to see continued progress with our downtown development,” Thornton said. “We’re starting to see more and more activity downtown. I think we will continue to look for ways to address transportation issues around the city. We’re getting very close to the widening of the Hamilton Road corridor, and I think once we get that underway, we will then be able to focus on some of the other hotspots around the city.”

Thornton said the city will continue to focus on transportation issues, especially in areas where traffic typically bottlenecks, and he highlighted the fact that all of the improvements are being performed without citizens needing to pay property taxes to the city.

“The City of LaGrange as an organization remains very healthy,” Thornton said. “We have for 20 years now not collected a property tax, and yet we have a very healthy cash reserve. I think we are definitely on the right track as an organization and as a community and will continue to address issues as they arise.”

One of the ways the city is addressing the needs of its growing population is by ensuring first responders are funded and have what they need to do their jobs.

“We are always looking for opportunities to enhance our public safety,” Thornton said. “We were very excited to add our fifth fire station in 2019. We will in early 2020 be adding a new fire training center. I’m very excited about that. We continue to look for ways to expand our police presence throughout the community. I feel like we have made some major strides in doing so.”

Thornton said that he took the results of the 2019 LaGrange City Council election — where all three seats up for election went to incumbents — as citizen approval of the direction the city is moving in, and he is also excited for the new unified development ordinance’s potential to encourage additional residential growth in the community.

He also noted efforts to market the city to visitors in order to bring in revenue through sales tax, hotel/motel tax and utility payments, alongside a wider variety of employment opportunities. The city established Visit LaGrange to help market the city to potential visitors in July 2019, and the organization has already been featured on national television and continues to attract major events.

“I was excited to see the city reenergize the tourism effort to continue expanding our messaging to other communities,” Thornton said. “I think in the coming year, we will continue to see growth and progress. I always tell people, we’re not perfect, but we’re getting better every day. I think 2020 will continue that momentum.”

However, even with all the improvements, Thornton admitted that there are still things that the city needs to do to improve.

“I don’t think there is any one single thing that transforms a city the size of LaGrange,” Thornton said. “I think it’s rather a continued effort to add improvement and addressing issues when they arise.”

Thornton has credited LaGrange’s citizens with some of its biggest successes on multiple occasions, and he said that citizen involvement will be the key to LaGrange continuing to grow and improve in the future.

“I would encourage the citizens of LaGrange to become more involved and to become better informed about some of the things that are happening in the community,” Thornton said. “I think we need a very engaged and involved citizenry, and we have it, but there’s always ways for people to plug in and become active. I would encourage them to look for those opportunities and to reach out to me or the other city council members whenever they have concerns.”

The results of some of those calls to council members can be seen in city council meetings on a regular basis and ways to improve the community are discussed in every meeting — even if some problems take longer to solve than others.

“I think that LaGrange is a great place to live and getting better every day,” Thornton said. “I think the people of LaGrange are very fortunate to have some of the amenities that we have in the community. I take it as an honor to be able to serve the citizens of LaGrange, and I know that I speak for all members of our city council, when I say that we are constantly looking for ways to improve the community.”