Four vie for three seats on Niles council

NILES – Residents will choose between four candidates in Tuesday’s election to fill three at-large spots seats on city council.

Incumbent Democrats Stephen Papalas, Reggie Giancola and Michael Lastic will vie for the positions, along with challenger Christopher Doutt.

Papalas is the longest-serving member on council, beginning as 1st Ward representative in 1980. He has served as an at-large councilman since 2000.

The 61-year-old said he is focused on balancing the municipal budget and cutting back on expenses not absolutely mandatory for the city.

“It is imperative that we control spending,” Papalas said. “That means capital improvement projects must be cut back or eliminated.”

Improving the city’s revenue stream and bringing in new business remains amongst Papalas’ goals going forward, in addition to keeping industries already present. To aid this effort, Papalas notes Niles and Weathersfield are working together on a Joint Economic Development District project on North Main Street, along the boundaries of the two communities.

“Once (a JEDD) is formed, a strong attempt will be made to develop an industrial park. I see JEDDs as part of the answer to our financial problems. They not only promote harmony between Niles and our neighbors, but they present an excellent way of sharing risk, investment and resources for development.”

Papalas graduated from McKinley High School in 1970 and received a bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Youngs-town State University.

He has been employed by Kent State University as a history instructor since 1995.

Giancola is in his third term as Niles councilman. He represented the 3rd Ward from 1990 to 1997 and 2000 to 2005 before taking an at-large position in 2010.

Going forward, he would like to update the city’s water and sewer lines, which Giancola says are out of date.

“When we have problems, we address the problem to see if it can be repaired or if we have to replace it,” Giancola said. “Replacements are very costly, but we will fund a project that needs fixed.”

According to Giancola, it is important to continue annual city upkeep, while also keeping an eye on budgetary issues.

“Paving our city streets is a yearly event,” the 55-year-old Giancola said. “We pave different streets every year and we’ll continue to fix and repair all the other streets. Still, we have to know and watch our budget. We must have our department heads stay within their budgets, check with the auditor on expenditures monthly.”

A 1974 graduate of McKinley High School, Giancola works for Trinity Industries Inc. in Niles.

Lastic served as a representative of the 2nd Ward from 1999 to 2003 prior to becoming an at-large councilman in 2003.

He says partnership among all city services and employees is the key to having a well functioning government.

“With the cuts in revenues we are experiencing from the state and other sources, we must continue to work together with city employees, safety forces, city council, city supervision and especially taxpayers to do what we can to promote an environment of cooperation and opportunity,” Lastic stated.

Lastic, 69, said he also believes money must be spent efficiently to entice business interest.

“We have available industrial land areas that could be attractive to all business and industry, but we must work with local agencies to promote what we have,” Lastic said. “Currently, the shale industry could possibly open up avenues for success but we need local community involvement, and help from our county commissioners and state officials for help.”

Lastic graduated from McKinley High School in 1961, received a bachelor’s from Kent State University in 1967 and a master’s from Westminster College in 1970. He was a teacher and principal in Niles City Schools and retired in 2004.

Doutt will look to re-join council after serving as 1st Ward representative from 1986 to 1990. He worked for more than 30 years as a teacher, first at Lakeview High School in Cortland from 1970 to 1985, and then at McKinley from 1985 to 2009.

Doutt sits on the Niles City Schools Board of Education and is in talks with the state about keeping that position if he were to be elected to council.

“It’s an interesting situation and they haven’t gotten back to me on it yet,” Doutt said. “If I’m elected, I have every intention of doing both until the state tells me I can’t. This would be a pretty unique case in that respect.”

Doutt, 66, graduated from Niles High School in 1965, received a bachelor’s from Gannon University in Erie, Pa., in 1970.

Looking forward, Doutt explained the shale industry is pivotal for economic recovery.

“We need to protect that industry,” Doutt said. “I spoke to the Mayor (Ralph) Infante a couple years ago and he told me hard times were coming. That has been the case for the community, the schools and just about everyone. Slowly but surely, things are improving.”

While recognizing the importance of a balanced budget, Doutt notes he would take into consideration people’s lives can be on the line based on decisions made by city council.

“Being compassionate with those working for the city and schools is a priority for me,” Doutt said. “They are relying on those jobs to keep a roof over their heads and keep food on the table. We can’t take budget decisions and cuts lightly.

“I’m running based on the motto ‘cemeteries are full of dreams.’ I love this community and I love democracy, and if you have things you want to do, you should do them,” he concluded.