Voters in Athens’ 3rd Ward have a big decision to make in the Nov. 8 election. Athens residents Michele Papai and RJ Sumney are vying for the 3rd Ward seat on City Council, which has long been held by Nancy Bain. A veteran of Council, Bain has decided not to run for re-election, and for the first time in nearly 30 years, her name will not be on the ballot.
We believe Papai, a Democrat, and Sumney, an independent, are both good candidates and would both represent their neighborhood well. But due to our business relationship with Sumney’s employer and past business we have conducted with his wife, The Messenger has decided not to endorse a candidate in the 3rd Ward race.
We have opted instead to use this space to provide 3rd Ward residents with some information about both the candidates that we hope will help voters decide who will best represent their interests on Council. Below are Papai’s and Sumney’s responses to questions they answered for the Athens County League of Women Voters’ 2011 voter’s guide.
Question: 2013 will bring a 10 percent cut to the city’s general fund, the governor’s budget eliminates the local government funds and the inheritance tax. Given this serious loss in funds, how will you meet the challenge of these cuts?
Papai: When reviewing the budget and assessing need, the members of Council must be aware of all revenue streams. The majority of our city’s budget goes to staffing. Preserving the essential services is top priority. Reprioritizing will have to be faced with the possible loss of $1 million affecting how the monies are divided. The elected representatives should aggressively seek external grant opportunities. As a community, it is important to problem solve these issues locally with strong citizen input, which I will actively seek.
Sumney: With constituent input, along with my Council colleagues, I would review the city budget for inefficiencies and redundant costs. In the meantime, let’s look at the situation as an opportunity. City Council needs more proactive engagement with local small business owners, planning to generate jobs and revenue that will substitute for lost state funding and create a more diversified Athens economy. I would also explore working with other Ohio college towns in developing a comprehensive state lobby effort, restoring more service and safety funds marked for small communities with sizable college populations.
Question: What projects do you see as essential in lean economic times?
Papai: I live in a neighborhood where infrastructure issues have been a concern for many years. As our community’s budget gets tighter, we must preserve what makes Athens special and unique. This is economically wise and says to potential students, businesses and visitors that we believe in this community and are prepared for the future. People are moving into the city looking for viability and vitality. We were recently included in the list of best college towns in America. That is something to embrace and preserve!
Sumney: Council needs to develop a strategic business plan. We need to partner the tremendous brain power we have in Athens with local economic agencies to create an innovative business infrastructure. By pulling the different strands of our local economy together, such as tourism, art, technology, food production, recreation and business start-up, we can maximize our growth. In addition, Council should also take the lead in bettering relations with students and non-students. Providing Ohio University students a stake in Athens’ future creates more loyal consumers for locally produced goods and services.
Question: Should local governments explore sharing services with other local governmental units? Please explain.
Papai: In a community where slightly under 55 percent of the land is taxable, we have no choice but to share services. A positive development is the purchase of a new ladder truck with some funds received from Ohio University. Currently the Solid Waste Plan is being finalized and several entities have to follow rules established by Ohio Revised Code, EPA, etc. Negotiations are under way with several different localities and businesses. Our city and county residents have much in common, and sharing resources, such as public transportation, is a benefit that adds to the livability of this area.
Sumney: Athens already shares services with neighboring government units, such as Athens County and Ohio University. One project deserving further exploration is the proposed Route 50 Corridor Project, a sanitary sewer system from outside the city that would generate added revenue for Athens, eliminate the need for a separate county sewage treatment plant, direct economic growth in an area preferred by the city comprehensive plan, while protecting our environment. The proposed system would upgrade portions of the city sewage system. Exploring other shared services that are mutually beneficial, that reduce costs and generate revenue would be positive for our community.