Mitchell, Brown discuss issues during city council forum

Published 9:45 am Saturday, October 21, 2023

The candidates for LaGrange City Council had a chance to make their case to voters Wednesday night during a forum hosted by the LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce and The LaGrange Daily News.

Incumbent Leon Childs and Travis Hart squared off in a forum discussing the 2B seat on the council, while incumbent Mark Mitchell and Curtis Brown discussed their qualifications for seat 1C.

The entire forum can be viewed on www.lagrangenews.com. Here’s a look at some of the highlights from the Mitchell and Brown forum:

Liquor store limit

Recently, the LaGrange City Council discussed a possible ordinance that would limit the number of liquor stores allowed to operate in the city, with the idea that alcohol consumption could be tied to some of the crime problems the city is facing. Both candidates were asked about their opinions on city government’s responsibility to limit the number of businesses that provide legal products to constituents.

Mitchell said he would listen to his constituents, but he said he is for a free market. He also said the only discussion so far has been preliminary.

“I’m not sure if I’d support that or not support that because I haven’t heard from my constituents,” Mitchell said.

Brown said he understands why there might be some concerns about location regarding these types of stores, but ultimately it’s up to the market to decide if it supports a business.

“I also do not believe it’s the right of government to impede on the rights of business owners or to impede on opportunities to pursue free enterprise,” Brown said.

Traffic

The candidates were asked about the bottleneck of traffic that often occurs at Greenville Road, LaFayette Parkway and Morgan Road and how they would alleviate that problem.

“It’s going to be a big challenge. I don’t think there is a clear answer for that right now,” Mitchell said.

Brown said the city should identify roads that can be expanded or widened or alternate routes. He also mentioned rideshare opportunities.

Litter

Brown said there are laws on the books, and there’s an opportunity for city council to evaluate the ordinances to ensure they are being enforced.

“Let’s go ahead as a city council and get information to the staff that needs to make this happen,” Brown said. “As citizens, we need to make sure we do our part, and if needed, there could be additional opportunities such as Leaving LaGrange Better Than We Found It. Through citizens actions, through enforcement of the laws and codes that are already on the books and through potential volunteer opportunities, I think we can solve that problem and make LaGrange stand out and be the gem that it is.”

Mitchell said the police department cannot be blamed for this problem, noting the LaGrange Police Department is currently 11 officers short.

“I have written people tickets for litter, and I know how hard to catch someone when you are in a marked patrol car,” said Mitchell, a former law enforcement officer. “They don’t seem to litter when you are right behind them with the blue lights and the grill bumper.”

Mitchell said he’s proposed the idea of hiring two employees and putting them on a side-by-side vehicle with caution lights and give them pick-up stricks and have them focus on main corridor roads and side streets.

“I’ve noticed the state has a crew that picks up trash on the state route roads, and they do a great job, but then three days later the trash is back,” Mitchell said.

Utility Rates

When the city’s FY23 budget was discussed, the council voted to raise the starting pay of LaGrange Police Department officers in order to attract a full staff. The LPD was short 23 officers at the time.

When initially discussed, the proposal was to raise utility rates in order to fund the increased salaries. Instead, the city was able to avoid raising utility rates this year, but the budget must still absorb the raises in coming years. Therefore, the council may have to consider raising utility rates next year.

The candidates were asked how they would manage a necessary utility rate increase when considering the burden on low-income citizens.

Mitchell said it’s impossible to know whether there’s a need to raise utility rates until March, when the preliminary budget be presented. 

“If we have to have a rate increase, the reason we were looking at the rate increase this year is because of the police,” Mitchell said. “We were short-staffed.”

He said the LPD is 11 officers short and has answered over 44,000 calls this year. He said the fire department is also short seven firefighters.

Brown said if residents are having trouble paying their bills and LaGrange has one of the state’s lowest utility rates, then something has to give.

“If we know we have the lowest utility rates and people still struggle with utility bills, there’s obviously a gap we need to address,” Brown said. “One thing we can do in lieu of having to raise rates and having to put that burden on our most vulnerable citizens is ensure we have adequate housing stock, we enforce codes that are on the books to make sure that that housing stock is the most energy efficient that it can be, so that we can avoid, if possible, raising rates and making sure that burden is not put on our citizens.”

The entire forum can be viewed online at www.lagrangenews.com.

Early voting will continue through Friday, Nov. 3 at the Troup County Government Center. Early voting is also open on Saturday, Oct. 21 and Saturday, Oct. 28 from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. at the Troup County Government Center. Polls will be open on Tuesday, Nov. 7 from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.