By Keith Gushard
Meadville voters will choose among a total of five candidates on the ballot for three different races for Meadville City Council when they go to the polls on Tuesday.
Three separate races are three candidates vying two four-year seats on council; only one candidate for a two-year seat on council; and only one candidate for the mayoral seat on council.
The candidates in each of the races stress the need for the city to try to first shore up Meadville’s tax base and then expand it.
“I feel like the job’s not done,” Nancy Mangilo-Bittner, a Republican incumbent, said of why she’s seeking re-election to a four-year term.
She, H. LeRoy Stearns, an incumbent Democrat, and Sean Donahue, a Democrat challenger are the three candidates for the two four-year seats.
Mangilo-Bittner said older residents on a fixed income within Meadville are caught in a tough situation of not being able to pay their real estate taxes, but they can’t sell their homes because of the city’s property tax rate, which is higher than surrounding townships.
“We’re at almost 21 mills (of tax),” she said. “Younger people often want bigger (housing) lots and they don’t want to be in the city.”
She said implementation of the city’s stormwater fee has been a way to help fund infrastructure improvements in Meadville since real estate tax exempt property owners must pay the fee as well.
Mangilo-Bittner said non-profits have to contribute more toward the city’s finances to help share in the costs that benefit all residents and businesses use such as snow plowing and police and fire protection.
Stearns said he’s seeking a fifth term on City Council because he cares about Meadville and feels he can continue to contribute.
“We’ve got a shrinking tax base,” Stearns said. “We need to have better housing stock in the city and counter slum blight. If we don’t work to have nice neighborhoods, it’s hard to get people to move into the city. My concern is blighted housing. I think we need stronger enforcement of our ordinances.”
Donahue, a business owner, said he got into City Council race because he’s frustrated with local politics and feels he can do better.
“Things have got to change,” Donahue said. “We need different people, different opinions.”
Donahue said he remembers growing up in Meadville in the 1970s and 1980s when homes were more owner-occupied.
Donahue said the Meadville Redevelopment Authority also had programs to help homeowners fix up homes. He also said the Redevelopment Authority had a business incubator at the former Talon Inc. site on Arch Street to help businesses start up and grow.
“There’s got to be a way to push it,” Donahue said of being more active in helping home and business owners.
Bob Langley, a Democrat, is the lone candidate running for a two-year term. Langley is running to fill the remainder of the term of a vacancy. Langley was first appointed to the seat in 2012 when Cheryl Burkey resigned.
“I feel there’s a lot we have got to still do as a group,” said Langley, a sales and marketing executive. “I want to see it all through. The declining tax base — that’s the driving issue in this community. We need jobs — we have to attract business to the area. I want to be proud of living here and feel I have a lot to give.”
John Christopher Soff, a Democrat, is seeking re-election to a second four-year term as mayor. He previously served one four-year term as a member of City Council. Soff is unopposed in his mayoral bid.
Soff said he believes in the city and public service is the right thing to do.
“I continue to believe the best days are ahead of us,” Soff said. “I’m excited to be part of making good things happen.”
“It’s not all fun and it’s not getting easier,” Soff said of making decisions that affect all residents and businesses. “But they still need to be made and we have to live with those decisions.”
Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.