Arrington, Edmondson discuss campaigns during mayoral forum
Published 10:00 am Saturday, February 25, 2023
Thursday night’s LaGrange mayoral forum between Jim Arrington and Willie Edmondson was cordial, as the two candidates who occupied city council seats together for five years answered questions about their campaign.
Edmondson has served on the LaGrange City Council for 24 years, once previously running a campaign for mayor that came up short. Arrington has served on the council for five years. Both had to resign their seats in January in order to run for the open mayor seat, which became available when Jim Thornton left to take a job with Georgia Municipal Authority in November.
Candidates were asked about affordable housing, property taxes and how to differentiate themselves from the other man, who they’ve often agreed with in city council votes.
The forum was hosted by the LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce. The entire forum is available to view on The LaGrange Daily News Facebook page and on www.lagrangenews.com. Here’s a look at some of the topics discussed:
The candidates were asked what separates them from their opponent. Edmondson touted his experience, which amounts to almost two decades more than Arrington serving on the city council.
“I have more experience. I have been at the table with some very lengthy budgets,” Edmondson said. “I know how to work with budgets. I know how to make sure that we have everything we need for our city.”
Arrington said he’s very passionate about LaGrange, with that passion growing during his five years of serving on the council. He talked about making LaGrange affordable to live in — a topic both candidates touched on throughout the night — and making it the safest city in Georgia.
“But what differentiates me from Dr. Edmondson is I’m a younger guy,” Arrington said. “I’ve got a lot of energy.”
The candidates were asked if they can foresee a day when the city of LaGrange might levy a property tax, given that inflation continues to drive costs higher.
Both said no, at least while they are in office.
Arrington, a home builder, noted that inflation has caused prices to skyrocket. He said two years ago he could build a house for $150 per square foot, while now it’s $250 per square foot.
However, he said LaGrange needs to continue to grow so that the city can bring in more revenue through utilities.
“We need to make sure that city of LaGrange is increasing in rooftops to keep from levying a city tax,” he said.
Edmondson also spoke about utilities, which is where a majority of city revenue comes from.
“The City of LaGrange, we operate off a $120 million budget and through that budget we’ve been able to sustain and not have city taxes,” he said. “As long as I’m the mayor of the city of LaGrange, we will not have to impose a city tax because we’re doing well with our utility rates. Our utility rates are lower than any rates around us.”
Edmondson noted all of the housing developments ongoing throughout the city of LaGrange.
“DASH is doing an excellent job. Habitat for Humanity, they are also doing local homes,” Edmondson said. “So we have entities here that are doing a great job.”
Arrington said the affordable housing issue is complex, particularly with inflation continuing to drive up costs.
“Workforce housing is what I would want to try to drive,” Arrington said. “And that would be the workforce housing for our police officers to live, our school teachers to who live in — people with those types of jobs that mostly we have here in LaGrange. But to attract those people to build those and do those developments, we’re going to have to get creative. You can’t just go and say ‘hey, I want you to come and build this here.’ We’re going to have to probably offer some incentives. And I don’t know what that looks like. I’m just speaking right now from my heart, knowing that these people can’t afford to come and build individual houses and make a profit without some sort of subsidy.”
When candidates were asked about any programs they consider wasteful spending and cut if elected mayor, both candidates said no. However, the conversation quickly turned to a decision to cut back on the amount of money the city was giving nonprofits. The city has cut the amount to $25,000 per agency, and both Arrington and Edmondson voted in favor of that decision.
“We were spending so much money on some of the different agencies, and each year they will ask for more money and more money,” Edmondson said. “We thought that it would be best if we started cutting back, so we came up with a revenue of $25,000. And that really did help a lot.”
He said it’s important the city is frugal with taxpayer money. With that in mind, he also said some programs can’t be cut. He specifically mentioned the RoundUp program for utilities that helps senior citizens who aren’t able to pay their bills.
“There’s not anything in the city budget that I feel like is just wasteful spending,” Arrington said. “We have gotten down in that budget and really, really dove deep into it. Now … when we get down to the table and they say ‘okay, we’ve either got to go up our electric bills, or we’ve got to cut out some kind of spending somewhere, that’s when you have to make those kinds of decisions like the agencies Dr. Edmondson spoke of.”
Arrington said a possible solution would be all of those agencies under one roof, with some sort of funding coming in — not just from the city of LaGrange. He said the decision to decrease agency spending allowed the city to keep its utility rates the same, specifically noting rates for elderly citizens.
CHANGE IN LEADERSHIP
Candidates were asked about the perception that government at all levels is broken and how each would ensure LaGrange maintains a functioning government during a period of a lot of change. The city is looking for a new mayor, fire chief and police chief.
“When you talk about broken government, we’re not really in broken government,” Arrington said. “We just happen to have three positions open, and we need to find the right people to fill them.”
Edmondson used the example of the city hiring Meg Kelsey to replace Tom Hall as city manager. He said the city chose the best candidate after receiving resumes from all over the country.
“I want to make sure that we hire the most qualified, the best person who we could possibly get to be the fire chief and the police chief, whether it’s internal or we get someone from outside. If someone that’s in our police department, or our fire department would like to apply for the job, then I’d like to see that,” Edmondson said. “We’ve done very well hiring people from within.”