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Katrina Binkewicz
On November 3rd voters will choose from among four candidates for two Town Board seats.  The Lansing Star asked the same questions of all four.  Two appear in this week's issue, and the other two next week.
Katrina Binkewicz is running for Town Board.  If elected, she will serve for her third term -- she served in 2000 and again in 2012, when she finished Andra Benson's term after Benson stepped down to care for her husband after he suffered a severe accident.  She moved from Washington, DC to Lansing in 1990.  She teaches TST BOCES students, kindergarten through age 21, art and special education and formerly taught science there.  She and her husband Matthew live in Lansing, as does her son Tony. 

Binkewicz stopped by the Lansing Star to talk about the reasons she is running for the Board, and to share her thoughts on what is important for the Town.

Lansing Star Lansing Star: What prompted you to run for Town Council now, in this year’s election?

Katrina Binkewicz Katrina Binkewicz: I have a long term commitment to trying to improve the quality of life for myself, my friends, my fellow Lansingites.  I think it comes down to the fact that I have a very good ability to visualize how things can be, not just how they are.  Being a creative person, I am always looking for another idea.  I don't think they're all equal, which is why you need a lot of ideas and strength. 

When you are building a town, working together, the more ideas you have, the better.  They're not all going to be great.  But the more you have, the more chance you have of selecting through those ideas to some truly great concepts for improving whatever situation you're in.

I moved into Ludlowville.  I started small.  Ludlowville Park was my park.  I became actively involved, when I first came to town, in visualizing how it could be better with plantings, and a bandstand.  I helped a group of people to make that happen.

Then when I was on the Board in 2000 I used that ability to envision how things could be. I looked at the ballfields and said, 'Where is the shade for the people watching their kids play sports?'  I went out and got trees donated.  That was the beginning of a plan to plant all around those ballfields.  I've been working with the Parks and Recreation Department, advising on where things should go.

I was on the Board when they were going to pave right up to the new Town Hall.  I said, 'This can be better than that.  Let's just stop and think about it.'  Now there are plantings that buffer that building.  I was also on the board when the plan was to knock down the old Town Hall and just have a grassy square so you could look at the new Town Hall.  I was able to see, 'This is a good building.  It's run down, but it's a good building.  What can we use it for?'  And I was one of the first dozen people that really focused on having a library.

Another thing I kind of spearheaded... a friend of mine, Wanda Brink, said, 'Do you know (Town Historian) Louise Bement has all these historical documents in her sheds and her garage?'  I said, 'This town should be able to do better than that.  We should provide a space that keeps these documents safe.

So this is how my brain works.  Your question is about why am I running now.  I started some important things when I was on the board.  I was involved in starting to have reserves in the budget.  This has fallen away.  It is fiscally important for the Town, going forward, to have reserves.  To plan for unanticipated problems, whether they're from weather, or a building being compromised... we need reserves.  Our financial rating is better if we have reserves.  We have a really good rating, but if we don't take care of a strong budget we're going to start being faced with bonding issues that will cost everybody more.

I am really concerned with everybody at various economic levels getting services and not having too many burdens.  I guess I'm a true Democrat when you talk about that.  I think everybody should have opportunity while maintaining fiscal responsibility (in town government).

I think the Town is in a place financially where we really need to get back to the basics of proper municipal planning and funding and protecting ourselves.  The Town needs to have a reinvigorated Economic Development Committee.  When I was on the Board before there was one.  It was very active. It went away because we didn't have new membership.  But there are a lot of small businesses in town.  I was very supportive of the East Shore Business group reinvigorating and putting out a new brochure, which is beautiful.

I think we take that energy from that small group and expand it, and get people that have experience with corporate development, and get a wide variety of diverse skills and reinvigorate that Economic Development Committee.

Because if we just keep building houses in this town it will cost the Town more and more in taxes.  We have to have a balance of business development with residential.

I would like to see support for the agricultural community going forward.  I fell very strongly about that.  I was very vocal on encouraging the Town Board to pass that Agricultural Protection Plan.  We need to move forward with that, so I want to support that.

I was very active in visualizing how Salt Point could be as an area that was safer for people, that was still a habitat, that was a place where all community members could go, whether you're a hunter or a fisherman or a photographer.  I am still very active with that, and I would like to see that move forward and be secure.

Lansing Star   You sort of answered this, but I'll ask it anyway:  What would you say your most important accomplishments were when you were on the board in the past?  How will you build on that, if elected?  I'd say pick one, because you just listed a lot.

Katrina Binkewicz  I listed a bunch of things I was involved with that have come to fruition.  I feel that there are a lot of people taking care of those.  They're not just dreams now.  They're real, constructive parts of Lansing.  I think Salt Point is still in its birthing.  There are still some people who feel like something was taken away from them by restricting driving out there.  I encourage those people to go down there and walk around the area where they used to drive, and see how beautiful it is and how they can gain a different appreciation for what's there.  I look at it as giving more people more things.

Because I have this long history... I was actively involved with the Friends of Salt Point in the 1990s, when it was still being dumped upon, and couches were being burned, and there was a warren of driving trails everywhere.  I have that long term vision of where it was and where we are now.

And I think it's important to have people on the Board that have that long term history.  That can see things that were tried and not repeat mistakes.  Not try to reinvent the wheel.  So going forward, my role in that group is to remind everybody that there are a lot of diverse stakeholders.  The birders can build blinds that help photographers, but in the winter the blinds could be used for duck and goose hunting.  Everybody should have a fair time at Salt Point doing what they enjoy.

Lansing Star  I know that's your baby, but what do you think is the most important thing that Lansing needs right now, the municipality?  I'm not saying Salt Point is not important, but what's THE important thing for the Town?

Katrina Binkewicz I'll tell you what Lansing really needs right now.  It needs the Town Board to be solidified as a team.  I've been on the Board two other times, and it was a team.  We had diverse opinions.  We had diverse political backgrounds.  But everybody knew they were there to better the Town.

We could discuss.  We could share information.  We could decide what the primary goals were and work together on them.

This town needs healing.  It's become distracted by the national political framework of everybody pulling to the far ends of the room and not talking together.  And it's really bogged us down.
Lansing Star I'm going to get back to that in a minute  But first, where do you stand on repowering Cayuga Power Plant?

Katrina Binkewicz I believe the power plant should stay open using coal while we build a cleaner energy production alternative like solar and wind power.  I don't think we should waste money on reconfiguring the plant with natural gas when the power lines need to be upgraded. 

I signed the petition in support of maintaining the power plant.  I completely understand where people who want to get rid of the plant are coming from, because I'm a scientist, too, I'm not just an artist.  I have a strong science background.  The planet is changing.  We are heating up the planet.  We're in a special place.  We're going to get more rain here.  But there are a lot of places that are going to get dryer.  They're not going to be able to make enough food.  There are places that are going to be under water, because the oceans are rising.  As the polar ice caps melt, it's natural that the body of water is going to rise.

So we have a total human responsibility to try to figure out how to power our needs without damaging the planet.  Because of that i am in support of going forward utilizing more positive solar power processes, geothermal, whatever.  New technology that creates energy without a cost to neighbors or the town or people on the other side of the planet.

But at the same time New York State... Lansing... we are stronger, our future is stronger if we produce power locally.  The power plant that we have is supported by people in our community, people who work there -- they have families.  I'm concerned for them.

Really the deciding factor is going to be market forces.  That's the way our country is built.  It hasn't been financially viable.  They haven't been running at full capacity.  They've been periodically in bankruptcy.  There is a reason that we're losing tax value -- it doesn't have as much value.  So market forces are going to determine whether that plant goes on, but at some point our town has to evolve to cleaner ways of producing power, and supporting ourselves.

If we produce it here, then we take care of ourselves.  If our power is produced in Ohio and there is a huge storm and those transmission lines go down Ohio will have power.  New York will not.

Lansing Star  How about the gas pipeline through Dryden to the Warren Road area?

Katrina Binkewicz I am for the natural gas line coming from Dryden for local use.  Lansing is at its capacity for energy.  We're kind of at a sticky place.  There are companies that want to come here.  They want to build here.  As a part of that they would pay taxes in the Town of Lansing.  They can't without the extra power, whether it's from natural gas or from electricity.  We don't have enough (natural gas).  Lack of natural gas is restricting development.

There are some really good, clean opportunities for producing power.  I think the governance of the Town should be doing due diligence and looking at these clean alternatives and encouraging developers to think creatively about how they serve their power needs.

The gas line has the potential to improve the quality of life for people in the Town.  It will bring taxes to our coffers as we lose taxes from the power plant, sales tax, or (other revenue sources).  We have to be careful about not making decisions that would impoverish the Town.

Lansing Star  There has been a lot of talk about new development and traffic in the Town.  Do you agree with the comprehensive plan?  If not, would you follow it anyway as representative of what the Town wants?  Do you have an action plan as to how the comprehensive plan should be implemented or not implemented?

Katrina Binkewicz I think a comprehensive plan should be what the name is: comprehensive, and it should represent the feelings of the taxpayers.  We had a survey that was done.  It was an excellent scientific survey that showed what the taxpayers care about.  That should be the basis for re-envisioning our comprehensive plan.  Why are we running, if not to serve our taxpayers?

It should be a broad vision.  It shouldn't be a vision of just one group or another group.  The minute we set up this Comprehensive Plan Committee, certain people and factions said, 'They're not my people so I'm not going to buy into that plan.'  And it hadn't even been worked on.

We need diverse viewpoints.  Diverse people.  I think it's an excellent committee.  If some people feel it's too narrow in spectrum, get more people on it.  But we should honor the process.  We should do our best job.  The comprehensive plan should guide development and changes in the Town going forward.  Why do it if you're not going to honor it?

Lansing Star  I made a pretty stark accusation against our town government, that I don't think they have been using that guide.  Do you think they have?

Katrina Binkewicz No.  I don't.

Lansing Star  Do you think they should?  This new revision of the plan will be done during your term if you are elected?

Katrina Binkewicz Absolutely.  It should be a guiding light for progress in the Town.

Lansing Star  After years of political split on the board, people are saying the election this year is an important one.  Why would you say this election in particular is important for Lansing?  Do you agree there has been a split?

Katrina Binkewicz I completely agree with that.  I think it's very important for Lansing.  Obviously I have my group I'm running with and there's an opposing group.  They just happen to be Democrats and Republicans, but I think the people within the group have some diversity in who they are.  This Democratic group that's running is very fiscally conservative, not what people would think of as normal Democrats.  We have fiscally conservative people.  Obviously, both sides are going to be fiscally conservative.  But we have a different vision of how we should use our resources.

Our vision is that we should be using municipal doctrines for budgeting.  Everybody who is voting for budgets on the Town Board should go to state training sessions.  Absolutely.  You can not vote on budget items and really understand what's going on (without training).  You can't budget like you do your home budget.  You can't budget like you do your small business budget.  It's a different creature.

And there are some huge ticket items coming up, some highway purchases.  Those machines are expensive.  We should have a long term plan for reserves.

I do think the Town's finances should be run the way good individual finances run, which is by not using a lot of credit.  You should save your money and pay for what you need to pay for without running up a ton of interest.

Lansing Star Votes on the board have been very much along party lines.  What would you do to help bring the Board to a consensus and break this pattern of 3-2 votes?

Katrina Binkewicz I have done that all along.  That's what I do.  I treat everybody as if they have potential to solve a problem.  If I feel that they're misunderstanding something then I go to everybody and try to have a clear conversation and build a new concept.

The team should act like a team.  Everybody's got different skills, just like on any sports team.  You have a running back, a quarterback, you have a linesman... but they all know what the common goal is, to win.  If we are so divided our town will not win.  It will suffer from a cloudy vision and loss of resources.

Lansing Star  Of the four candidates for Town Board, what makes you the best choice?

Katrina Binkewicz I have a proven track record for working with everybody.  I don't hold a grudge.  I believe I shouldn't ask people to do work that I'm not willing to do myself.  I do my homework.  Having a science background I believe you should have data upon which to base your decisions.  And I do that.  I do my homework.  If things are vague I try to dig up some clarity.  Everybody I work with knows that I work from a place of respect and curiosity and team building.

Lansing Star  What would you like people to know about your candidacy that we haven't talked about?

Katrina Binkewicz I love Lansing.  It's apparent because of the amount of effort I put in.  I believe in being a public servant, not a politician.  I can't stand politics and I wouldn't be involved in it if it wasn't a way to get some good work done.

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