Homer City officials, citizens discuss business challenges, code concerns at town meeting
Attracting businesses to vacant buildings in Homer City's downtown area was the main topic broached at Tuesday evening's town hall meeting that brought together citizens and borough council members.
The gathering was organized by council members Jennifer Jaworski and Chris Worcester. Jaworski said the council would like to host town hall meetings twice a year, in the fall and spring.
About 20 residents attended the open forum at the Homer City fire hall to offer suggestions and voice concerns on an array of subjects, chief among them the redevelopment and revitalization of the town's Main Street.
“No decisions on any of the concerns will be reached tonight,” council President Richard Morris advised residents. “Everything will be recorded and everything that's brought up will be brought up at a council meeting where a decision can be made.”
Mike Charnego, president of the Homer City Business Association, said his group has written to the council offering to help the borough in its attempt to attract business, but has received no response.
“Your help is needed when it comes to business development. Absolutely,” councilman Matt Black told Charnego.
Charnego and borough manager Rob Nymick both said they have heard from parties interested in purchasing Main Street locations and bringing new businesses to town, but they pointed to property owners' unwillingness to sell those vacant properties as a major hurdle to downtown development.
“I've had people contact me, because of the Business Association, with interest in some of the buildings,” Charnego said. “It's not the problem of getting someone to buy them, the problem is getting the owners to sell them at a reasonable price. Their expectations are beyond what someone can afford to pay to tear a building down or to convert a building. That's the problem. These present owners don't care to sell at a reasonable price.”
“In my opinion, people like that are halting the development of this area very much so,” Black said of owners who won't take offers on vacant buildings. “They really need to, if somebody offers them a nice chunk of change to get out of it, they've got to think of it this way: They don't have to pay taxes any more.”
“I'd love to see some other stores and some other businesses come in.,” he said. “We invite them to come in and take a look. Some of the property owners in the area I know would like to sell, (but) what it's worth is what it's worth, and that's the bottom line.”
Nymick said he has met with “at least a dozen people who would like to build and do something in Homer City.”
Asked about garnering help from the county to bring businesses to Homer City, Nymick was less than optimistic. “If we're going to turn and look for help from the county, we might as well forget it,” he said. “I think we're on our own. I don't think the county, on a county level, promotes Homer City as much as Center Township.”
Another obstacle the borough faces, according to Nymick, is a small population base that renders Homer City ineligible for many grants that could be used to develop Main Street without requiring a local match.
One avenue the borough is investigating as a means to circumvent the population requirements for the more attractive grants involves merging with Center Township or making a boundary change.
“We're throwing some numbers together to see if it would be feasible to merge with Center Townhship to get our population base where it needs to be so we would qualify for different grants,” Nymick said. “We are in the very early stages of a consolidation or a boundary change or however you want to call it. We're not even to that point. We have a gentleman from the Governor's Center who's putting the numbers together for us. We've been working with the three (township) supervisors. We don't know if this is a go or not, but that's one area the council is looking at to see if we can get to where we need to be to qualify for the different grants or low-interest loans that are out there.”
The grants Homer City could currently pursue generally require the municipality to contribute an amount equal to the grant award – money the borough simply doesn't have.
“If we can get our population base up to where there would be no matching grant I think that would be the best for everybody,” Nymick said. “We're talking about coming up with a tremendous amount of money (for the grants requiring a match) and I'm not sure we want to continue to raise taxes to try to match grants.”
Any consolidation or boundary shift will not come quickly, the council warned. Morris noted the Governor's Center researchers will “come back with a report that will give the council and the townspeople their best opinion of whether it would be profitable or not profitable (to consolidate), what would it do to benefit us. The report is very detailed.... They'll notify us that they have a report that they'll give to us. That will be the second step of many. It's not something that happens real fast.”
Of the other concerns raised at the meeting, many involved code enforcement issues.
Jim Carruthers pointed out leaves and grass clippings, as well as abandoned cars, being left in the borough's streets.
“Slowly but surely we will address those issues,” Morris said. “We're going to have somebody hopefully that can step into more of a code-enforcement type (role) because we do have those ordinances already on the books. Our failure is having someone who enforces them.”
Carruthers also suggested snow plowing operations within the borough could be made more efficient by moving vehicles from streets at designated times to allow the plow trucks unobstructed paths.
Bruno Saiani asked that the borough look into posting speed limit signs along Center and Beech streets, noting young drivers regularly travel those streets at high speeds.
“Recently the council, along with Rob Nymick, has had volunteers from the high school that are very bright young students who came in and redid our entire website,” Morris said. “... They put together a wonderful website that has a great introduction to Homer City. As inconsequential as it may sound, that's the first step to getting businesses to come in. I was impressed. ... It's very informative and it has some very nice, new pictures that show Homer City has a promising future instead of just a community that has a couple people living here happily ever after.”
Black reminded residents the borough council meets the first Tuesday of each month and encouraged citizens to attend the public meetings, held at the borough office at 30 East Wiley St.
Greg Reinbold is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2913 or firstname.lastname@example.org.