Candidates for West Point mayor go back and forth on pool, SDS, tornado recovery during forum

Published 9:50 am Friday, October 27, 2023

Steve Tramell and Deedee Williams, the candidates for West Point mayor, went back and forth on several issues during Wednesday night’s forum organized by the LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce.

The forum, which was held at the West Point Depot and streamed live on The LaGrange Daily News Facebook page, was a showdown between two candidates who were separated by just 25 votes when they faced off in 2017. Tramell has served as West Point’s mayor since Drew Ferguson resigned to run for his House seat in 2016, and Williams has been on the West Point City Council since being appointed in 2019.

Both appeared to bring their A-game Wednesday, going back and forth on the Service Delivery Strategy agreement, tornado cleanup and how to use the soon-to-be donated Coca-Cola building. The entire forum can be viewed on www.lagrangenews.com and the LDN Facebook page.

 

POOL

One of the largest topics discussed was the vacant pool at West Point Elementary School, which the Troup County School System has voted to demolish.

“It has the community in an uproar,” Williams said. “It is a travesty that something so vital to a community close to the Chattahoochee River, close to the beautiful lake West Point — there’s no facility for children to learn to swim. Swimming is a basic life skill. I cannot imagine that we are not more concerned with that.”

According to information from Troup County, the West Point pool needed major repairs when it was closed. The needed repairs included resurfacing due to cracking of the concrete in the pool, plus locker room renovations. It was closed following the summer of 2019.

“We’ve already set aside $2 million that we hope at some point we’ll be able to get matching funds from the county and get ourselves a really nice facility,” Tramell said of the pool. “But at the end of the day, recreation is a countywide function, and that’s their responsibility. We’ll use our SPLOST dollars that I would like to go for infrastructure to go toward recreation. We put about $200,000 a year out of our budget into recreation every year, and we shouldn’t put any. But we do it to keep it up to the standards that we want it to be. I’ll make sure we get that pool and get a nice facility down the road.”

Williams said the pool is needed, but she said it’s been needed for a long time.

“I have been asking about the pool and restoration of the pool for several years … Here we are eight years in, and we are talking about SPLOST funding that will come to fruition when?” Williams said. “That’s a whole generation of children that have missed the opportunity to have a facility to learn to swim.”

 

SERVICE DELIVERY STRATEGY

In 2021, after months and months of negotiating, the cities of Troup County, LaGrange and Hogansville approved a new Service Delivery Strategy. The SDS is required by the state of Georgia for all 159 counties and outlines the delivery of government services in a cost-effective manner to citizens. The plan covers topics such as utilities, emergency management services, fire protection and law enforcement, among many others.

West Point did not sign the agreement but LaGrange, Hogansville and the county coming to an agreement satisfied the law.

Tramell requested mediation during that process, though an agreement was made before that step was needed.

As part of the back-and-forth during negotiations, Troup County had threatened to pull fire services out of Hogansville if no agreement was reached.

“They extorted the city of Hogansville,” Tramell said during the forum.

“They are taking a lot of money, charging for a lot of services that we don’t get.”

Williams said she would’ve handled negotiations differently had she been mayor.

“There are three sides to every story and some of what Mayor Trammell has said tonight is his perspective and his opinion. If you talk to other people, you’ll get a different perspective,” Williams said, noting the county would give their side as well. “…I believe in following the rules. I believe in coming to the table in good faith and negotiating, participating in that. I don’t know that I can say that I feel that we did that in every instance.”

She said the key to changing the law is the state legislature.

The next question was about SPLOST funding, with Tramell being asked specifically about a quote about the county’s lack of care for West Point’s residents.

He said 90% of the sales tax dollars that come in go Troup County or LaGrange.

“They are using the law, what the legislatures have done, so they can take the money,” Tramell said. “It’s a slush fund. If I’m your mayor for the next four years, I’m going to continue to fight. They are taking our property tax dollars, they are taking our sales dollars, and they are using it for the benefit of the county, for the benefit of the citizens of LaGrange to keep their fannies in office. There’s a lot more people up there. They don’t care about the 1700 people that our half of West Point Troup County is.”

 

COCA-COLA BUILDING

In June, Coca-Cola announced it was closing its West Point facility and donating the land and building to the city of West Point.

Tramell said Wednesday night that the city has not officially received the building yet.

Both candidates were asked for their ideal way to use that property.

Tramell laid out a “pie in the sky” plan that would include a hotel and fast food restaurants positioned on that property, which is right off Interstate 85.

“We have room for all of that. That would be the best use of that property. Whether or not that happens remains to be seen,” Tramell said. “… That generates a hotel/motel tax that we keep in the city.”

Williams said she prefers a community center, something that would benefit all of the citizens of West Point.

“I would like to see a community center of some sort, something that serves the purpose of the whole community so that what’s been taken away can be restored to some extent,” Williams said. “We’re supporting a lot of people who could come into our city, but we’ve kind of forgotten about people who have been here for years and continue to pay taxes here.”

Then, she asked why Coca-Cola decided to leave in the first place and whether the city could’ve done more to keep the company in West Point. Coca-Cola had operated in West Point for 50 years.

“Why weren’t we trying to keep Coca-Cola in this community rather than them moving 30 miles down the road?” Williams said. “They provided jobs to the community …  We should’ve been making more of an effort to keep them here.”

Tramell said that Cola-Cola had made it clear over many years that the company wanted to leave West Point due to where their customers were located.

“All of their business is in Alabama and Auburn. Columbus does the whole LaGrange market. They are traveling to Alabama for their business, so they wanted to be closer to the market they serve,” Tramell said.

He also said a community center sounds like a good idea, but that the Coca-Cola location right off the interstate should be highlighted with a different type of facility.

“That’s a prime piece of commercial property right on the interstate,” Tramell said. “We can put a community center somewhere else that’s better suited. But you do not squander that gift of that beautiful piece of property right there on the interstate for anything but something that generates income for the city and expands our tax base.”

 

TORNADOES

In March, an EF-3 tornado impacted Troup County, striking an area just outside of the West Point city limits on West Point Road. The candidates were asked about supporting the individuals who were impacted by the storm.

“Sure, it’s not in West Point, but those people who live there are almost all of them are from West Point, they interact with West Point, they do their shopping here, their family is here. We really should not have turned our backs on them,” Williams said. “It wasn’t until we had a little more conversation with Troup County that we got on the bandwagon to support them.”

Tramell disagreed with Williams’ assertion that West Point did not support the victims of the storm.

“I just don’t know where — I never heard that,” he said.

“Go back and look at the film,” Williams replied.

“OK, well let’s look at the film because our city crews were over there with our sway cars. We were all over there. I was over there picking up debris, we were tarping houses, immediately,” Tramell said.

“You were — eventually,” Williams said.

“No, not eventually — immediately. We were over there right away,” Tramell said.