The event, sponsored by the Greater Valley Area Chamber of Commerce, gave residents a chance to ask those on the ballot about the issues West Point faces.
“The most important thing to me is not putting all our eggs in the same basket,” said incumbent Councilwoman Sandra Thornton, saying Kia Motors has been great for West Point, but the focus now needs to be attracting residents and getting a school in West Point.
Former Councilman Darren Kelley, who is running for mayor, said he feels working with Troup County school system during the upcoming rezoning could help get a school on the south side of the county.
“You keep building and adding to LaGrange and Callaway (high schools) and creating these super-schools,” he said. “You aren’t going to have growth (in West Point) without a school here.”
Council candidates Jerry Ledbetter and Ben Wilcox also said the county school board needs to be involved in the process of helping West Point get a school.
“If we stick to our guns and grow, the Troup County board of education will be behind getting us a school,” Ledbetter said.
Incumbent Councilman Donald Gilliam said West Point should build a school itself, and has the option to separate from the Troup County school system if it chooses to. He cited an example of a city in Alabama that raised its millage rate by more than 15 mills to help fund a school and break away from a larger school system.
On the issue of recreation, Mayor Drew Ferguson IV repeatedly said the redevelopment plan’s improvements would help draw business and residents to the city.
“If we make an investment in recreation … we will then begin to see the private sector come in,” he said, saying he supports continuing and expanding youth and senior programs.
Marshall, Kelley, Ledbetter and Wilcox also stressed the need for improved recreation and after-school programs.
Gilliam said cleaning up the city and decreasing taxes would help draw business and new residents.
Once again the issue of compensation for public servants was raised, and a majority of the candidates said the would forgo salary or benefits if elected.
Wilcox, Marshall and Kelley said they would not need a salary. Ferguson said he would “lead the charge” on eliminating pensions and health care for the mayor and council if re-elected.
“Quite candidly, (pensions and health care for elected officials) is not warranted for a community this size,” he said
Ledbetter said he wouldn’t eliminate compensation, but pledged to not increase it.
Gilliam said compensation should not be an issue since it is such a small amount. Thornton said salary for council members usually is eliminated by meetings, donations and other aspects of the job.
When asked a direct question about rusty water in the city, the mayoral candidates both said West Point’s water system needed to be improved.
Kelley said a backflow prevention system should be installed in yards by the city. He also said that the dead end water lines cause a problem with rust or mud in water.
Ferguson said methodically replacing water lines over time would solve the problem, but an engineering study would be needed and all the options looked at before anything is done.
“When you look at replacing water lines you’d have to borrow money … which would result in higher water rates,” he said.
On the issue of housing, all candidates agreed West Point needed more affordable housing options.
“We currently have way too much poverty house and upper-level housing, and not enough in between,” Ferguson said, saying partnering with DASH for LaGrange Inc. might be an option.
Kelley and Gilliam said they supported use of a landbank in the city to help with development and affordable housing.
Thornton and Ledbetter said the Fuller E. Callaway Foundation is helping with the problem. Ledbetter also said other nonprofits and even some for-profit organizations might be able to help solve the housing issues.
— Here’s who’s on the ballot Nov. 8:
Mayor: Drew Ferguson IV, incumbent; Darren Kelley.
City Council: Donald Gilliam, incumbent, Sandra Thornton, incumbent, Jerry Ledbetter, Gloria Marshall, and Ben Wilcox.
Three council seats are open, and candidates are elected at-large. Councilwoman Ann Wallace chose not to run, which leaves the third seat open.
Matt Chambers can be reached at mchambers@ lagrangenews.com or (706) 884-7311, Ext. 228.