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Jeannette mayor, council races get down to business

| Tuesday, May 8, 2012, 7:28 a.m.

Business is foremost on the minds of candidates for mayor and council in Jeannette.

It's a city which has a 2005 budget that called for a 6.12-mill tax hike. City officials have even discussed seeking relief under Act 47, the Municipalities Financial Recovery Act. The candidates want to find ways to bring in additional revenue so such a tax will not have to be levied.

There are three candidates seeking the Democratic nod for the city's mayoral office -- incumbent Michael T. Cafasso, Frank B. Hodges and Ed Day. Cathey Means is uncontested on the Republican ticket.

There will be two council seats open. The primary has attracted two Democratic candidates -- incumbent Mark L. Clark and John L. Kolbosky. John R. Howard is the lone Republican candidate. So all three will move on to the general election in November.

Cafasso, 40, was appointed to the mayoral post in January to replace John Kisic, who resigned for health reasons.

"The biggest issue we have is to cut internal expenses to try to save taxpayers money," Cafasso said.

In Cafasso's mind, local businesses are a way to generate some of that cash.

"It's very important to have business in a city like Jeannette that's lost its tax base," Cafasso said. "The community needs to support local businesses as much as they can. We need to support and develop our land for any new small industry that would be willing to come to town and set up shop."

Hodges said he sees an anti-business sentiment from elected officials. "I've talked to businesses," Hodges said. "They all tell you the same story; you go to council and you get a run-around, you get a hard time from code enforcement and zoning. Small business is the lifeblood of a community. It's got to be turned around, or this city's going to die."

Hodges feels his professional experience -- more than 25 years as a facility manager -- can serve him well in a post he thinks should be handled full time.

"If Jeannette was a thriving community, maybe that would be different," Hodges said. "They're operating bare bones. You have to be there full time. Everything is fragmented. Everybody's got to work together."

Day, 40, also sees the need for more business, citing 37 empty spots along Clay Avenue.

"We've got to get the community working together," Day said. "I know a lot of people, I'd like to bring in some businesses and raise the educational standards. Our children are being lost by the wayside."

Day also would like to see some relief for elderly citizens, perhaps in the form of a tax benefit. He wants to pursue scofflaws.

"There's a few people that own businesses that may be in arrears," Day said. "We have to make sure they're paying their business tax."

Means, 49, is looking to make history. She is the first woman to seek Jeannette's mayoral office.

"When I first came to this city, it was not very business-friendly," Means said. "We need to promote businesses coming to the city and giving people the opportunity to have jobs."

She suggests capitalizing on the city's rich history with perhaps a museum. She also feels purse strings need to be tightened.

"The mayor is just one more council member," Means said. "It takes five people to pass a budget. People are getting tired of taxation. Look around Jeannette and you see so many 'For Sale' signs. You don't give people raises when you can't keep up with services. There have to be more effective ways to delegate the budget."

Clark, 50, is seeking his second term on council. He hopes to keep things in line with the 2006 budget, especially with contract negotiations on the agenda for the police and fire departments and the Teamsters.

"We're looking to have everyone with us so we can get the budget set up the right way," Clark said. "I know we're never going to be back to what it was, but we need to get more businesses in Jeannette, more downtown money coming in. We're starting to make a comeback, and I want to be a part of it. I want to see Jeannette become Jeannette again."

Kolbosky, 71, agrees. His memories are of the thriving city he served for 20 years as a police officer, and that's what he wants now for Jeannette.

"Jeannette's still a good town," Kolbosky said. "If we had some stores, I know people would shop here. If there's any way I can talk to people and have them stay, I'm going to do it. People at City Hall don't seem to care. People go there with complaints, and they sort of push it off. I want to sit down and talk to people to try to help them."

Howard, 56, is the founder and president of the Jeannette Area Historical Society. He feels the city should capitalize on its history with the possible addition of a glass museum. He said Jeannette can't, and shouldn't, compete with malls or big-box stores.

"I think we should encourage other businesses to locate in town and do everything we can to keep them here," Howard said. "We have become dependent on outside money instead of earning it. It's almost like the leadership has lost its job and that job is business. Instead of going out and finding a new job, we're relying on government money. We need to bring business in, and that's the only way we're going to recover. We've got to get out of the mentality that government will bail us out."

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