Voter guide 2023: Longtime trustee Festa faces a challenge in Mantua Township

Original photo of Mantua Center School taken around 1915. Photo was provided by Lynn Harvey.

Township resident Paul Moore is challenging Trustee John Festa for the position of Mantua Township trustee in the November 2023 race.

A township trustee for 12 years, Festa said he has never missed a meeting. He served on the Mantua-Shalersville Fire District for six years, four of them as chairman. He was also a member of the Portage County Regional Airport Authority for four years and is a member of the Ohio Township Association.

“We have a few more things we need to take care of,” Festa said. “One, to finish up our sewer project. We’re connecting all our sewers to the main county sewer line on Route 82. We also have the flood study. The engineers have finished their portion of it and gave us their recommendations, and I want to make sure we pick the correct one that will solve the problem for the Black Brook Conservancy District.”

The area drains into LaDue Reservoir. Even though ditches that line the roadway are up to eight feet deep, they are sometimes overwhelmed, he said, adding that first responders and residents can’t get to their destinations during high-rain events.

A public meeting will be held next year to discuss the engineering study, which Festa said recommends building holding reservoirs to slow down and/or divert the water, and/or to raise the roadway itself. The question, as always, is where the dollars will come from, he said.

A third option is that FEMA could buy the properties most affected and turn them into green spaces. Not on board with that choice, Festa said, “People don’t want to move, and we don’t want people to move out of our township. We want them to move in.”

Festa said he also wants to gather the township’s records into one location, making them more easily available to anyone who might request information. He envisions improving the new park next to the township square on Mantua Center Road, improving the ball fields and adding a fitness trail, a pavilion, a playground and restrooms.

He’d like to see the revised historic district overlay added to the National Park Service’s National Registry of Historic Places and to ask township voters what they want done with Mantua Center School. The township bought the building and the annex once used as a gym in 2004.

The township rents the annex out for public events, but bringing it up to code so it could be used for township offices and public assembly could well cost some $4 million, Festa said.

“Where we’re going to get that funding, I have no idea unless the people want to increase their taxes,” he said, noting that years of fiscal prudence have brought Mantua Township to its current sound position.

Moore is retired from an 18-and-a-half year career with the City of Aurora, where he was employed as a mechanic, service truck driver and heavy equipment operator. He served 15 years with the Mantua-Shalersville Fire District and is knowledgeable about commercial heating and air conditioning. 

Moore said township officials need to work together with residents, especially as Mantua Township seems poised for growth.

“I don’t think they [the trustees] work together,” he said. “Certain people seem to have their own agenda, and that’s what it goes by. I don’t like that. I wasn’t raised that way.”

Township officials must plan for the future if Mantua Township is to remain a good place to live, Moore said.

“You can’t stop growth. You know you can’t make some residents happy, but at least have a little respect,” he said.

Focusing on Mantua Center School, Moore said he would like to see it utilized instead of watching township leaders “buck heads.”

“It’s a good asset to the community, and right now it doesn’t even have any heat,” he said. (Festa said there is enough heat in the structure to keep the pipes warm.)

Lauding the township’s maintenance employees as “an awesome group of guys,” Moore also pledged to prioritize caring for the township’s cemetery and roads.

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Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.