Fine points of debatePublished 11:28pm Monday, October 17, 2011
Based on Monday night’s debate, it appears Niles city mayor candidates Mike McCauslin and William Tim Skalla are on the same page on most issues. But there were a couple areas of contention that came to the forefront.
Skalla, who currently represents the fourth ward on the city council and works for French Paper Co., referenced several times the revenue the city gains from its utilities department during the debate.
The city currently gets 7 percent of the department’s electricity sales each year — a practice Skalla believes should come to an end.
“We need to rely less on the pilot program and utilities to support the general fund,” Skalla said.
In response, McCauslin, a three-term incumbent and an employee of Notre Dame, argued the city needs to get at least some return from the city utilities department.
“The city needs to get some benefit from it,” he said. “Otherwise, there is no reason to have it. We could just reap the financial reward of selling it.”
Just as in the previous debate, which took place before August’s primary election, Skalla brought up his opinions on Niles’ council-city administrator form of government.
He again said it was a system “forced down the citizens’ throats” in 1980 in a close election after several previous attempts were decisively shot down.
Skalla argues the city could save a significant amount of money through eliminating the full-time city administrator position.
McCauslin, on the other hand, is a “strong supporter” of the system.
“It has allowed us to sit here and have a discussion without yelling at each other based on political party. We’re just here because we want what’s best for our community,” McCauslin said. “It takes the politics out of it.”
When asked about the potential for job growth, Skalla was optimistic about the city’s ability to draw in new businesses.
“We need to be aggressive in letting manufacturers in Illinois know that Michigan is open for business,” he said. “We have a lot of empty buildings we can give them a good deal on.”
McCauslin said the state needs to change its business tax structure in order for the city to be more effective in drawing in new business.
“This is the 21st century. I’m not going to bring a Tyler or Kawneer here with a shake of my hand and good will,” he said.
Both candidates agreed that continuing to support the Southwest Michigan Economic Growth Alliance and Niles Main Street will help build the local economy.
McCauslin also pointed to tax abatements as a “good tool” for helping existing businesses to expand and produce more jobs.
Skalla again pushed his platform of making Niles a tourist town, suggesting building a replica of Fort St. Joseph or an Indian village to draw out-of-towner history buffs to the area.
“We need to rely on ourselves more (for revenue). There’s a lot of revenue to be had out there,” he said. “And it’s a lot easier to bring businesses and people to your town if they already vacation there.”
The debate, sponsored by the League of Women’s Voters of Berrien and Cass Counties, the Four Flags Area Chamber of Commerce and Leader Publications, took place in front of an audience of about 40 people at the Niles District Library.
The general election is Nov. 8.