HOMER CITY: Five compete for four seats on borough council
Four incumbents and the mayor of Homer City are each looking to secure one of four seats on borough council.
The incumbents are Matthew Black, Joseph Iezzi Sr., Jennifer Jaworski and Christina Worcester. Mayor Kenneth “Cal” Cecconi, a former borough councilman, is looking to win a seat for a third term on council.
One of the major concerns council has been facing is finding ways to bring new businesses into Homer City to increase revenue and the tax base for the town, and revitalizing the borough to attract such potential businesses along with new residents.
Just last week, council gave the green light to amend an existing zoning ordinance to allow Disobedient Spirits LLC, a microdistillery, to open and operate along Main Street, after roughly two months of debate and opposition from Homer City’s spiritual community because of its proximity to a church that houses Celebrate Recovery meetings and because of safety concerns.
All candidates are running on the Democratic ballot.
Matthew Black is seeking a second four-year term on council, and said he is running for re-election because, he said, he enjoys the job and is “trying to do what’s best for the residents of the borough.”
“I’m trying to keep everything livable, trying to entice some business,” he said. “I’m also trying to make it better for people.”
Black, who was born and raised in White Township, said Indiana’s gotten “so big” and that he likes “the small-town community” that Homer City offers. He said he appreciates its close proximity to Indiana so “if I have to go, I’m not far, and that’s why I love it here.”
Black said he is a “firm believer in the power of the people.”
“The people have all the say, and I try to do my best to give the people of the borough what they want because they voted for me, they’re looking at me as their representative,” he said. “And I try to do my best to represent them and their concerns.”
Black said he has had to “rattle a chain or two to try to get some things done” for Homer City, namely “calling out” state Rep. Dave Reed and former Indiana County Chamber of Commerce President Dana Henry, “and it helped us.” Black had made comments in late 2011 that the state legislators for Indiana County and the Chamber of Commerce were not doing enough to support the borough in terms of state aid and business development, which prompted Reed and Henry to attend a council meeting to address those concerns.
“I was the one that basically said that I don’t feel Homer City Borough gets enough attention from the county, and I can honestly say that we still don’t,” he said. “And I will fight all I can to see that Homer City Borough gets their fair share of any kind of funding, projects, business — anything of that nature.”
“This is a great community. It has great people,” Black added. “You can’t ask for a better community in the area, I feel, than Homer City Borough. And even Center Township.”
Black also said council “really got the ball rolling” on the borough’s new website, which went online last year.
He said he still sees Homer City as “a relatively good, wholesome, close community where you can walk down the street and say hi to your neighbor, say hi to the guy across the road, and you know his name.”
“That’s a big thing. Personal interaction in a community, to me, means a lot. A lot,” said Black, who sees a bright future for the borough.
“Homer City’s headed in the right direction,” he said. “We are growing in population a little bit; we have some people moving out but some people moving in, especially small families. We have a great school district that I feel is one of the best when it comes to educating children.”
“It’s a great family community,” he added.
Black is an operating engineer with Local No. 66. He and his wife, Lynn, have three daughters.
Having spent eight years on council and now serving as mayor, Kenneth “Cal” Cecconi said he enjoys being involved in local government and feels he can bring “that neutral position” to the table.
“I have no preconceived agenda; I’m just there to do what’s better for the borough residents,” he said.
As a former part-time Homer City borough police officer for 31 years as well, Cecconi said he knows a lot about the borough itself “from both aspects, as an employee and as serving in an elected position.”
“You get to know the needs and wants of both the borough and the residents,” he said.
Cecconi also is a proponent of bringing new business into Homer City.
“We need to try to do something to bring more businesses into town and to spruce up the town a little bit, and try and do what we can with the economy the way it is today,” he said. “There’s not much out there and we’ve been pretty good, I think, (with being) frugal with our dollars over the last 11 years that I’ve been involved in the borough, and only doing what we had to to raise the taxes.”
Cecconi said he thinks the town’s tax base is “a pretty fair price base for the services that the residents get, both streets/utilities and the police force,” he said.
“We’re always looking for ways that we can do more with less,” he added.
Cecconi said one of the biggest accomplishments when he was on council previously was keeping taxes as low as possible while still providing necessary services to the community.
“We didn’t raise the taxes much over those eight years, and we kept the services at the same level or higher than a lot of other areas,” he said.
Cecconi was employed by the Homer City Coal Cleaning Plant for roughly 29 years, and his experience working there gave him the expertise on the equipment that is needed to maintain the borough, he said.
“That would be more my expertise, since I worked with equipment, running it and maintaining it,” said Cecconi, who was chairman of the streets and utilities committee during his time on council.
Cecconi said he feels he’s a “pretty level-headed individual” who’s open to all comments and suggestions.
“I weigh all sides of the issue; I don’t have any preconceived ideas before I walk into a council meeting,” he said. “I try to listen to the public opinion and what they say; that weighs heavily on my decision.”
Cecconi also is running for a second term as mayor, which he said he is primarily pursuing. He filed the petition for council as a secondary pursuit because he didn’t know at the time “who was running for what,” he said. He said he is aiming for mayor because “that’s my expertise, working as a police officer for 31 years.”
Ceconi is running unopposed on the Democratic ballot for mayor.
“I know the needs and wants of both sides, being a resident of the borough and working as a part-time policeman,” he said.
Cecconi said he feels he’s been open-minded to any citizens’ concerns that have come to him as well to the police department.
“I think I’ve been fair to our employees in negotiating a contract; I helped negotiate a contract for them that was fair and equal to both sides,” he said, adding that he’s run the police department under budget for the last three years.
“I am pretty frugal with the taxpayers’ money,” he said.
Cecconi said anyone’s always welcome to call him with any problems or concerns.
“I listen to everybody’s side before I make my decision,” he said.
He said it’s up to the citizens to decide which position, if any, “they see me fit to fill.”
Cecconi, who has lived most of his life in Homer City, and his wife Bertha have two grown children and two grandsons.
JOSEPH IEZZI SR.
Joseph Iezzi Sr. is seeking to retain the seat he was appointed to two years ago to fill a vacated position, and said he wants to continue to do his best for the borough and “keep projects going that we started and keep making things better for Homer City.”
Iezzi, who serves as council’s vice president, said he wants to continue to be part of the effort to increase business in the borough, and said that it was an achievement being able to bring Disobedient Spirits to town.
“I know there were a lot of people against it (as well as) a lot of people for it, so it was a big accomplishment to get it in,” he said.
Iezzi said the borough is always trying to bring in new businesses, and that it’s trying to get another drug store in Homer City after Klingensmith’s Drug Store closed in 2011, “but right now it’s hard.”
“We were able to bring Cuzi’s Restaurant in (in 2012) and that was a big accomplishment also,” he said.
Iezzi said bringing in new business endeavors would help make it easier on taxpayers because of an expanded tax base. It would also help with the issue of several vacated buildings in the borough.
“It’s not really attractive when you walk down the street and see empty buildings,” he said. “If they had something in them it would make Homer City look more attractive and allow people to come in and see what’s available here. Hopefully we can get more businesses to make it better.”
Iezzi said he would like to see Homer City “prosperous and growing in the next few years.”
“We’ve worked hard to do other stuff and have tried to bring in businesses and make Homer City a better place,” he said. “Hopefully we can start attracting people to buy homes and move in. That’d be a plus for us.”
He said he hopes people start coming to town and “start supporting what Homer City does have to offer.”
“That’s what I’d like to see. Hopefully, with Cuzi’s and the distillery, people will come out and see what we do have,” he said.
He also said he’d like the borough to retain recent and future high school graduates.
“It seems like when the younger population graduates from high school they move on,” he said. “Hopefully we can get them to stay in the area. I would like to see a young person find a job around here and stay in the area and not have to move away.”
Iezzi said he hopes everything goes in his favor.
“I’m feeling pretty good and things should go fine for me,” he said.
Iezzi works as a welder for Accrotool in New Kensington, and worked for FMC in Homer City for 37 years. He has been a member of the Homer City Volunteer Fire Department for 41 years. The department nominated Iezzi for the county’s Male Civic Leader of the Year award for 2013.
Iezzi and his wife Patty have two grown children.
Jennifer Jaworski is looking to secure a second four-year term on borough council, and said she is running for re-election because she enjoys it.
One of Jaworski’s major accomplishments during her time on council that she said she is proudest of was working with the Young Lungs at Play initiative through Penn State.
“That was the initiative that helped us pass the ordinance making our parks in the borough tobacco-free,” she said.
Jaworski said it’s important to her that when her children go to play in the park, “it offers the same amount of safety as when they’re playing in my backyard, and I feel that that’s something that (the initiative) helped accomplish.”
She said she thinks Homer City is “on an up trend and that new businesses are becoming more interested in what Homer City has to offer.”
“I think council has to continue to work to get new businesses in here and revitalize Main Street, and make it as appealing for new businesses as possible,” she said. “We want to see these dilapidated, old buildings rejuvenated and brought back to life, and bring Main Street back to where it might have been 40 or 50 years ago with everything rented out and being used.”
Jaworski, along with fellow council member Christina Worcester, was involved in getting the first town hall meeting established for residents to come and voice their concerns. She said to the best of her knowledge, based on feedback she received from residents, it was the very first initiative for such a meeting in Homer City.
The first meeting took place in November, and brought out around 20 residents. The main point of discussion was regarding council’s efforts to bring businesses back to the borough.
Jaworski said council intends to hold the town hall meetings twice a year, and hopes to get more of the community involved in those meetings.
She said as far as major issues or concerns in the borough, “as of lately, the biggest controversy has surrounded the distillery.”
“If there are extenuating circumstances to be concerned about, that would be it,” she said.
Jaworski is the administrator of Homer City Parks and Recreation. She and her husband, Rob, have two children.
Christina Worcester is running for her first four-year term after being appointed in 2011 to fill a vacated council seat.
When she applied for the position two years ago, she told council she had an interest in the community’s well-being, and she said she’s running to keep her seat because “it’s been a very enjoyable experience.”
“It’s been a good learning experience, and I think we as a council, as a group, have been making great strides in helping get the borough back to where many people would like it to be,” she said.
Worcester said she, along with council, is “always focused on getting more businesses into the borough and promoting the resources that we have: natural, like regarding the Hoodlebug, the boat launch, just helping put Homer City out there to let people in the county know what’s available here.”
She also said the borough’s website is starting to get up and running, and that that’s been one of council’s accomplishments as well as a way of providing the public with information about things going on in Homer City.
One of her bigger accomplishments, Worcester said, was the formation of the town hall meetings in conjunction with council member Jennifer Jaworski.
She said she’d like to continue to see more community involvement.
“I think we’re getting the community involved much more in the latter part that I’ve been on council as compared to the beginning,” she said. “I think we have more of an outreach now.”
“That would be the biggest thing; I’d like to continue to see the community being involved and invested in the matters of the borough,” she added.
Worcester is a supports coordinator at the nonprofit Community Guidance Center.