Archived Story

Niles mayoral candidates answer questions

Published 7:33pm Thursday, November 3, 2011

Niles mayoral candidates Mike McCauslin and Wm. Tim Skalla have responded to a questionnaire issued by Leader Publications. Their responses will help readers learn more about the candidates.

The mayoral election is Tuesday.

Name: Mike McCauslin

Age: 56

Occupation: Assistant Director, Risk Management and Safety, University of Notre Dame

Mike McCauslin

Experience in local government:

In my service to the citizens of Niles and the community, I served for several years on the Niles Planning Commission, the Zoning board of Appeals, and the Brownfield Authority.  Additionally, I served on the City Council for eight years and have been a member of the Southwestern Michigan Economic Growth Alliance for twelve years.  I am honored to have been the Mayor of Niles for the past twelve years.

What is the biggest issue facing the City of Niles in the next four years?

The biggest issue facing the City for the next four years continues to be the economy and jobs.  It is also the biggest issue in Michigan and the country in general.  I continue to work with the DDA, the Southwestern Michigan Economic Growth Alliance (SMEGA) and the City Planner and Administrator to ensure that we are doing everything we can to bring new businesses to the City.  This remains our number one priority and we have been successful.  In my time as Mayor we have brought numerous new businesses to the community, and will continue to ensure that we provide a climate and community where businesses want to locate.

How can the city attract more businesses to the community?

The best way to be attractive to an employer is to be desirable, to be a community wherein a business wants to be located.  A community can be desirable by doing two primary things:  the first is providing a quality of life that people seek; by providing parks and recreation, quality schools; good housing stock; and family oriented entertainment….all things that Niles offers and are constantly working to improve.

Secondly, we must provide a climate that is desirable for business; access to distribution of goods and services; quality workforce; infrastructure and services; available facilities and a competitive tax structure.  We offer all of those things and the State is working on leveling the business playing field with our neighboring states.  We have and will continue to market and promote the City to employers.

Additionally, we are currently working with the Michigan Housing Development Authority to develop and improve near downtown housing.   The idea is to create small neighborhoods with their individual identity mixing moderate and low income housing with market rate housing.  These neighborhoods would attract the new generation of urban dwellers and would support restaurants, retail and entertainment within walking distance of the downtown enhancing the base population to help support downtown and riverfront activities.

We are also working closely with Amtrak on enhances speed rail.  We are on target for 110mph trains with new engines and coaches to be running a regular schedule by the end of 2013.  The federal government sees southwest Michigan as the intersection for St. Louis, Chicago, Grand Rapids and Windsor and Toronto, Canada.

High speed trains would increase the demands for residential and retail and commercial services with our community.

What should be done with the Pucker Street Dam?

Exactly what is being done at the present time.  The Council accepted proposals for the dam some time ago.  They varied in development type and participation by the City.  Through this effort we discovered the type of dam (kinetic) that we wanted for our community.  Understand that by 2013, the State must obtain 10% of its electrical power from “green” sources.  Green power is typically somewhat more expensive than traditional means of generation.  The DNR would like to see the dam removed.  Of the 2800 dams in Michigan, approximately only 100 are operational.

In October, a request for proposal (RFP) was sent and published for proposals on the Pucker Street Dam.  As part of the RFP, we are also asking that plans be submitted for a park development near the dam and the creation of rapids that can be used for recreational purposes.  At this time, we look forward to the responses.

What are the most important attributes of an effective Niles city mayor?

The position of Mayor in the City of Niles is an interesting, unique and challenging elected position.  Some of the most important attributes or skills for this position include the ability to obtain consensus among the eight Councilmembers in the direction of the City; to assist the City Administrator on issues that arise; to understand the needs and desires of the community; to be impartial; to provide government transparency; fiscal responsibility; understanding and balance; to serve as a sounding board for the community; most importantly to represent the City and provide community and City leadership.

Name: Wm. Tim Skalla

Age: 59

Occupation: I work as a paper tester in the lab at French Paper Company.

Tim Skalla

Experience in local government:

Elected as a councilmember to represent the fourth ward in 2006, I midway through my second term. To a fresh eye, it certainly appeared like the administration was looking for a rubber stamp approval from the council. Why else would the council receive agendas Friday at 5 p.m., when everyone was gone in the city, and vote on Monday evening? We now receive our agendas on Wednesday, with time to ask questions of city personnel prior to voting. I was instrumental in changing how the city disposes of properties, through online auctions now than local newspapers. I was responsible for the formation of a nonprofit group, Friends of Silverbrook Cemetery. Being unfamiliar with government, I ignored the $90,000-plus price tag for fencing on Cherry Street and Main Street, and with volunteers made them both look good for $11,400. Government experience is good for a thousand reasons why something can’t be done.

What is the biggest issue facing the City of Niles in the next four years?

Our biggest issue is revenue and maintaining our quality of service in the face of declining revenues. We always take more than 7 percent of electric revenue even though most PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) programs in our region use less than half the amount. We cannot continue to overfeed at the PILOT trough. We need revenue generated by tourism, camping or new business and we need to actively, aggressively pursue this revenue. We cannot sit on our hands and wait for our problems to solve themselves while blaming the State of Michigan for our economic woes. In the end, someone has to take responsibility and be held accountable. Sturgis has 51, Coldwater has 52 and Dowagiac has 42 Industrial Electric customers. Niles has 17 Industrial Electrical customers.

How can the city attract more businesses to the community?

We must try to foster stronger relationships with the businesses we currently have in hopes of retaining them and controlling the exodus. We must ask for the order if we want to make the sale. We must approach prospective businesses about our Forbes ranking, available manufacturing space, affordable housing and whatever incentives for locating here we can muster. We could send introductory letters to Illinois businesses where the owner attended college in this area and are looking for a friendlier business climate. No one will come here with their business if we wait for them to contact us. Continue to support Shelley Klug of the Southwestern Michigan Economic Growth Alliance, and work with her, but rely only on ourselves.

What should be done with the Pucker Street Dam?

It is difficult to say what should be done at this time. We sent out a nationwide “request for proposal” to review our options, and those bids are to be opened the afternoon of Nov. 18, 2011. Ideally, we will be able to partner with someone to make electricity at this site. Clean, renewable, green energy is everyone’s goal, and those type of kilowatt hours are now extremely valuable as a result of the requirements government has put on the power industry to achieve 10 percent levels of green energy. Local fishermen do not want the salmon and steelhead upstream from dam, as this is detrimental to the brown trout fishery. I have talked to some of the downstream people and they are confident the dam is safe. It was a hundred-year rain (over a foot) that caused the problem, and the gates are working now.

What are the most important attributes of an effective Niles city mayor?

The mayor must run an organized meeting, while encouraging discussion to arrive at the best possible solutions. The mayor needs to be approachable, someone that people feel comfortable discussion problems and ideas for Niles with. The mayor needs to be actively involved in community projects, helping ensure their success whenever possible. Collaborating with the city council and administration, the mayor must plan toward a more prosperous, safer and better city of Niles for all our residents. The mayor must accept responsibility. They cannot point fingers at Lansing, the economy, SMEGA, Obama, etc. and say nothing can be done. The must recognized the uniqueness that sets Niles apart from most other communities, and find ways to capitalize on our history to improve our situation in terms of our local economy.

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