The race to represent Ward II on the Albion City Council sees two men with significant civic experience going toe to toe.
Gary Mason, incumbent alderman and former city clerk, will be defending his seat against Steve McMahel, former mayor of the city. McMahel elected not to run for reelection at the conclusion of his first term in 2017.
So what brought the former mayor back to the political arena?
“To try to see that we get back to keeping better track of our expenses than we have the past couple years,” said McMahel. “When I was mayor, we kept detailed records, and we knew exactly where we were.”
The former Albion Mayor noted his belief that this had changed, accounting for the shift away from such reporting with the turbulence felt at the position of city treasurer over the last two years. The city saw two treasurers resign in that span.
“We’ve had two or three treasurers,” he stated. “(The council) isn’t getting adequate reports, if any, and my estimation is they don’t know exactly where they’re at financially.”
Mason also acknowledged the need for fiscal responsibility on the council, expressing a reliance on grant monies to move the city forward on certain projects.
“In order to accomplish the city’s goals for its residents, it is necessary to be cognizant of financial responsibility and pursue any grant or loans available for use by our municipality,” he explained. “The city has to apply budgeting techniques to ensure that we have funds to realize attainment of our goals.”
At the front of that list of goals are multiple water issues facing the city.
“It is of the utmost importance to provide a good life-giving water supply for the residents of Albion and the areas that we serve,” said Mason. “In order to accomplish that, we are working with the City of Grayville to establish a site which would greatly benefit both communities for generations.”
McMahel also highlighted the need for a water treatment facility, expressing lament that the defunct Wabash Valley Water Commission could not create a solution that fell in line with the needs and price range of Albion.
According to McMahel, there is a cheaper model already enacted within the region from which Albion could mimic.
“I went to Robinson and looked at their water treatment system up there, and it’s exponentially cheaper,” he explained. “It would take care of all the problems we’ve got.
“That would give us good, clean water, and it would save us millions of dollars.”
The former mayor noted that the matter needed to be expedited, citing the loss of Rural Wabash as a water customer for the city, as well as expressing concern that the city could lose Ellery should problems persist.
“If Grayville doesn’t want to participate, we should just go out and build one big enough for us,” McMahel stated. “If we don’t, somewhere down the line we’ll probably lose another customer.
“If we lose that extra income, we’d probably have to raise the water rates for people in town.”
There are also aspects of the city’s current water infrastructure that McMahel stated need attention as well.
“There’s quite a backlog of repairs that need to be made to the water system,” he explained. “We have waterlines that have outlived their lifespan, and they need to be replaced.”
Upon elaboration, McMahel cited lines both within and outside of the city limits.
“We’re talking probably 26 miles of rural lines that they started on the Pinch Line,” he said. “A whole transmission line between Grayville and Albion is at the end of its lifespan, and there are still 25 blocks of old cast iron in town that is at the end of its lifespan.”
Mason also called attention to the “Pinch” Waterline project, an effort to connect rural portions of Albion and Bone Gap to the city’s water supply. The council had voted to move forward with the first portion of the project, which would connect multiple residents along Bone Gap Road, with work recently beginning on it two weeks ago.
The incumbent alderman noted that the overall project will add a significant influx of customers for the city.
“(We) also need to finish the new waterlines northeast of town to extend service to everyone in that area,” he stated.
Both candidates also presented their thoughts on the repaving of the section of Elm Street between Fourth and Seventh Streets.
“It is a known fact that I am not a fan of brick streets,” Mason said.
To support his vision of paving Elm Street with a material other than brick, Mason cited a survey of 130 people with whom he had spoken about the issue.
“Personally, I would like for Elm Street to be paved with concrete to allow for the smoother transit of vehicles on that street,” he stated. “Per an unofficial survey I conducted two years ago, almost 70 percent of the people opted to remove or pave over the brick streets.
As for McMahel, the repaving of Elm Street comes down to a matter of tradition versus practicality.
“I think there is some merit to keeping brick in the town,” he said. “But there comes a time where (we ask), ‘Can we do it feasibly?’”
However, McMahel sees a larger issue which needs to be addressed before the council should tackle any repaving project regarding the roadway.
“The big issue with Elm Street, as I see it, is what’s going on underneath of it,” he stated. “At Dwain Massie’s corner, it’s sinking. Everybody tells me there’s no sewer or anything under there, but there’s something under there.
“The dirt’s going out, and if you don’t fix that, it doesn’t matter what you put over the top of it.”