Binkewicz has an art degree from Hamilton College, and has a MS in horticulture and an MA in teaching science from Cornell University. She is certified to teach 7-12 science with an emphasis on biology, as well as art. She currently teaches art to special education students at TST BOCES. She has been a leader on the board in transforming Salt Point to conform to the management plan that is part of the lease agreement with the state. She spoke to the Lansing Star two weeks ago about what she wants to do if elected to a new term.
Lansing Star: After the debate that stemmed from the latest and failed sewer project I think the question has to be asked: does the Town Board have an overarching vision for the Town? I understand that we are all waiting for the Comprehensive Plan Committee to come up with its revision, but I also think that people will vote for representatives who have an overall leadership plan. What is your own overall vision for Lansing's future in the next four years?
Katrina Binkewicz: Lansing is a wonderful town. It's based upon a long-time farming community. As it's evolved it has a lot of people who have moved here for the strong schools and have jobs in Tompkins County and other areas.
I think everybody who lives in Lansing likes it the way it is, including myself. I love it the way it is. I have full intention of staying here until I am old and grey and hope to be buried in one of the local cemeteries.
But I also think that there are aspects about the town that will not stay the way they are now, regardless of whether we have a vision. Things change. When I first moved to town there was a lot of farm land where there are now large housing developments on Brickyard and up on Hillcrest and those communities. Things have changed.
We have had the liberty of having a strong tax base because of the commercial development in the Village that we benefit from in sales tax and assessed values. We have benefitted from the building around the airport in the Village area, the spinoff businesses. We have benefitted from our long term big businesses in town, Cargill and the power plant and Borg Warner. We haven't really had the pressure to look at what tax money we're not getting. We've had the luxury.
With the reduction in assessments of the Pyramid Mall and the potential reduction in the power plant either by half or completely -- we don't know. Even if they repower it may be an expensive change for them and they may petition for no payments to the town just by virtue of being here and to help fund that upgrade. So we don't know. We're going to enter into that renegotiation with the power plant as they make their decision and we go forward.
I feel like one of the things we take for ranted in Lansing is its natural beauty. We take for granted that there are just as many little waterfalls over here, but they're hidden. They're on peoples' private property. They're tucked away. We have not had to advertise our natural beauty. Myers Park is obvious. It's there for anybody in the county to see. It's a lovely park.
The town boards in the past have been very supportive of improvements there and upgrades, and the Parks and Recreation staff and the Highway Department are certainly included in that because they help with improvements there like rebuilding the marina and paving. When they have extra time everybody chips in. That's one of the great things about our town government is that we do have some flexibility to chip in and help other departments. That's saving money.
Going forward I feel like the tourism dollars that are available to this county are mostly going elsewhere. This is a time in our town when we have uncertainties about our tax base and we can't afford to not put some effort into attracting tourists. The small businesses benefit from having tourism come into their area. We have some great local places like Rogue's Harbor and the little B&Bs -- we have a few.
Are you saying there should be a department of tourism in the town? It might be a one-person department, but something like that?
I think we definitely should have hours allocated to assessing where we are and what we can do to improve our attraction to tourists. And to not have the locals feel like it's an oppression -- because sometimes when you live in a place where tourists come you feel like you can't get a seat at your favorite restaurant Also when you have people coming to your town to spend money more restaurants can flourish. You can have more B&Bs. People who have their house and their kids have gone to college can reconfigure it and have their B&B in their house and have a way to bring in money as they retire.
All these little businesses that are spinoffs from tourism dollars benefit out local people. It can be an opportunity. We also have to realize that things we do that can attract tourists are also benefits to our town residents.
We've had some pretty bad bike accidents in Lansing. Even with some of the roads having bike lanes it's not really a safe place for you to say to your kid, 'I'll see you later. You're going to bike to the mall.' It's not something I would feel comfortable doing. Even living in Ludlowville my son didn't really learn how to ride a bike because there was only one place to go. Even if you bike out Salmon Creek you don't have an edge and sometimes people race down that road. So there are benefits of trails and bike lanes on more roads that are for local people as well.
What single town issue to you see as the most important and challenging for the Town Board as a whole now, and what do you intend to do about it if elected?
There are really big fiscal issues, but Ian issue that i feel has impact on the health and well-being of the town is not as much fiscal, but of town morale, spirit and cohesiveness. The way I function as a representative is I'd rather listen to a variety of opinions and all of the constituents than to just a block or some group that agrees with me or has a vision that I (share). It's not about me forcing a vision from a little group of people. I want to serve and represent a variety of constituents.
There is strength in all those opinions and viewpoints. What really concerns me is when it gets so heated and divisive that people in the different groups don't hear what the other people are saying. They're not listening.
I feel like when I was for the concept of sewer in the town, because I could see how it could bring tax dollars to our base that is shaky at this point. I had some assumptions that I felt were concrete because I had data to support it. I was still able to listen to people that were strongly against it.
Some of my decisions were based upon people that felt I wasn't listening to them, but I did hear them. I told Connie Wilcox that one of the things that made me decide to go back to the service area and really get hard data on whether the (people who live in the proposed) service area were for or against, regardless of what those outside the service area felt, was her statement that it was really going to impact the residents of Woodsedge and the rents there.
That's important. These are people that are really watching their pennies. They're getting hit hard with medical bills. They're getting hit hard with prescriptions. These are important things. Woodsedge was in the service area and that made me think let's go back out, because the EDU cost per person -- per household in the service area -- was the lowest we were ever going to get it. Because we had this grant and because everything had pulled together, and because of the 12-C, frankly.
The sewer benefits?
The sewer benefits. We made it a 12-C because we felt the tax benefits would benefit all. So if everybody contributed a little bit to creating the 12-C, regardless if they would ever get sewer -- it doesn't really make sense to bring the sewer pipes way out. That's not really the vision that was held, but everybody was going to benefit in some ways.
The price in the service area was the lowest we were ever going to get it, so let's go back to the service area and see if they want it even at that price. Because if a true majority -- in my mind that's like a 75% majority. I know we've moved water districts at 55%. That's still 45% that don't want something. That doesn't feel like a majority. That feels like a taking to me. That's why we came back and did the research and found out that we did not have a strong majority in the service district.
At that point with the additional voices from outside the service area it just seemed like we, as representatives, could not go forward with this project.
What town issue is closest to your own heart, and what do you intend to do moving that forward?
Writing grants. Coming up with money that's out there takes a lot of time and focus and homework. A town board, as well as managing day to day aspects and short term vision, should be thinking about a larger planning aspect. You can't do it all by yourself, especially with people on the board having other jobs.
So planning is very important to me. I do think that the town needs an official planner going forward to help with having all the aspects of what's goint on in town make sense. Because if they're not working in cooperation: the comprehensive plan and zoning and the ag protection plan that is being finalized, and tourism --- you need a clearing house of an educated person to help tie things together. If you're just being administrative it's hard to have that vision.
Plus we don't have that two years graduate degree of planning -- there are a lot of things we're not thinking about. a planner could work on grant writing and tying all these smaller visions together to make a really healthy, economically balanced whole.
And also present it to all these different groups in the town and show how all these things will benefit them. There's that public communication aspect that a planner is also trained in. The sewer committee felt that we did not have that when we went forward with the sewer initiative, that we didn't have enough marketing and explaining of the benefits to the people in the 12-C area.
I understand that Jonathan Canter's part-time contract with the town is nearing an end and that he wants to be retired. Are you saying the Town should hire a full time planner at this point?
I do think the Town should have a full time planner. For the size of our town. You can argue that the Village has their own planning department, but the Town needs to look at itself as a whole and the Village is a piece of that whole. So we need to have the oversight and bring their planning into our overarching vision.
They have a strong planning board, but they don't have a planning department. They have a codes officer. But they don't have that much planning to do -- the Village is all filled up. But the Town is not.
We're not filled up. People that have land would like to sell part of it or all of it and we need someone who is paying attention to the whole plan and all of the voices can be information that help guide this process.
As part of that I'm very strongly supportive of the natural resources of this town. That includes agricultural land and wood lot area. We've got a lot of unique natural areas. We need to update that plan and really have our planning. When developers come they need to have coherent understanding of where our unique natural areas are and what we're trying to preserve.
This ties back into the various values of things that each of us as taxpayers share should be honored. Not to restrict development. But if, say, a developer has a large property of 20 acres and three acres of it is unique natural area, the whole planning process of putting a development in, the unique natural area could be a highlight. It could be a zone of protection. It could also help with storm water management. That's a really critical piece as we have more developments. The balance of where the water's going to flow.
You've talked about private natural assets. You've been the leader in bringing Salt Point up to the plant that originally was approved by DEC when the contract was signed for the Town to manage it. The only other big thing I can think of is something on people's minds -- it's not a real thing yet. It's the transformation of the Bell Station land to either an upscale residential area or a state forest. Where are you on that?
I have walked that land. It has two pieces to it: the agricultural land and the forest/shore area. We could just look at it as a chunk of land that has a tax equation. Or we can look at it with its potential layers of value to the Town.
Between Myers and Salt Point... Myers is a very groomed park ad it's perfect for a lot of the activities that are there. Salt Point is a natural area, but it's also an industrial rehabilitation area. So it's not an untouched natural area like the Bell Station area is with the whole slope and the old woods.
So if people see the value it could become the third leg of real natural gems in the Town of Lansing that are open to the public.
And that's something you do or don't support?
I support the concept. I think a lot of people support the concept. The real stopping point is the perception of loss of value, in tax dollars to the town, and that is valid. I could have voted for it. We could have pushed the issue and voted for it a year ago, really.
At that point the issue was to support it so the state could feel comfortable in allotting funds if they ever become available.
That's right. I'm in support of researching it as a viable option. I am truly in support of it as a valuable asset to the Town beyond having houses and collecting taxes that way. As we bring on these developments that are close in to the center of Lansing we adopt the roads. We have to take care of them. We have to plow them, make sure they are maintained. The more rain and storm water issues we have will affect the cost.
The budget that we have for the Highway Department is one of the largest chunks in the budget. Rightly so. If we keep a piece of land for that, without houses, we don't have those costs. But I think going forward we have to see what happens with the power plant. if they don't repower that's another large piece of land and maybe there's a way to have a hybrid system where you have value of a state forest and you have value of large expensive developments next to a state forest.
So I think we have to look at it as a whole, but I've always been in support of a state forest. But just as important I am in support of getting income in lieu of tax dollars. I can't see losing tax dollars on it.
This is a unique area of watershed and water shore on a beautiful, pristine lake, one of the healthiest of the Finger Lakes. We shouldn't not look at the different layers of value.
Is there going to be a town center? What would you like to see happen to the town center land?
I have been, since my last term on the Town Board, interested in sustaining and helping guide a centralized town center area. I think it's wonderful that we have Rogues Harbor at one end and now the little liquor store and the pet grooming and karate that's at that end of the town center, and now we've got Crossroads, the market and the gas station and Dunkin' Donuts. We're starting to have the feel of a town center without the density of a town center.
It's wonderful that the Town was able to purchase the land in the center there and it's a valuable resource. There have been differences of opinion on the Board whether the Town should be more in charge of guiding that process, or whether we should just sell it all to developers and let them figure out what should be there.
I think we can have a compromise. We have a committee gathered to review RFPs for the town center land. We may sell part of that and let some developers get going. I think developers are interested in having some level of building density , whether it's mixed commercial-residential...
From a planning standpoint it's important to have some density in the center of town, because when we ask for more bus times from the County there is more justification for it. I think we should support our local businesses. We need higher density population in the center of Town. That's why the Village has a lot of commercial activity there. That's why the (Lansing) farmer's market moved to the Village. We didn't have enough people stopping in the center to support that type of activity. I hope, in time, as we get more developments in the town center area that we'll have enough people to sustain our farmer's market.
So I am in support of planning that encourages development in the center and allows us to have a variety of residential options for our citizens.
In the final sewer meeting there was some discussion of a 'split Lansing' with relatively affluent neighborhoods in the south of the town that see themselves more a part of Ithaca than Lansing and more traditional families in the north that grew up here and want to maintain the character of the town they remember. Do you agree that there are 'two Lansings' and, if yes – or no, how does that impact your vision of how the Town should led by the Board? Also, if 'yes' is there a political divide in Lansing and how is that driving the campaign?
Let's go back to divisiveness. My main goal, if reelected, is to reduce the perception of polarity. To have people understand they have common goals and common benefits. That everybody can bring something to the table and strengthen our town.
In simplification you could say there are two Lansings and you could draw the line right there on Auburn Road right by the Town Hall. You could do that, but I don't think it's wise and I don't think it's healthy.
It also disenfranchises all the people in the middle. I don't think it's sensible, any time you look at data, to just look at the far ends of the spectrum. Yes we have a very loud end of the spectrum in conservative -- some might say Republican, but some might say 'old Lansing'. And we have people that have a more liberal or progressive vision of where we should be going. They might have some commonalities with Lansing.
But there is a whole spectrum of real people, you and I included, who can see benefits and strengths from the different groups. I think it's important that we have a common vision and we have some common language and we can problem-solve. We can keep a healthy, strong, traditional Lansing but also have some of the progressive things help support Lansing. Like having more solar, more sustainability, green concepts...
Speaking of green concepts, I'm definitely anti-fracking. I'm anti-fracking because of my understanding of geology in general. Specifically in theis area, I have a lot of background in clean water issues. When I was on the board before I was on the InterMunicipal Watershed organization when they were looking at goals for the whole county area. So I have a lot of background on that and I think that as we go forward in discussions about going from a fracking moratorium to a fracking ban -- that's my goal, to get to a ban -- in order to preserve this town's agricultural health, the health of future tourism, the wine industries...
We're going to have many more vineyards popping up in our town. But if we're going to have waste water from fracking that is loaded with radiation and metals... that vision is not consistent. The cows need clean water to drink. They need to make healthy milk for people to drink for the farmers to be viable. Even the micro industries like the small grocer cooperatives and farming. There are a lot of people in Lansing still on well water. We need clean water to drink.
While some people have told me that town taxes are too high I think most people agree that school and county taxes are the real culprits that are burdening property taxpayers. One of the most oft-sited justifications of the sewer and town center projects was to increase the tax base to mitigate the school tax rate for current property owners. Is it the town's job to do something about school taxes (if no, whose is it)? And what should the responsible entities do about it?
It comes back to the question of the two polarized Lansings. SHould the town mind its own business and not help support the school? I don't think so. The town government is looking at the total health of the Town. And while we are a small portion of the tax on our people, we should definitely be interacting in constructive ways with the other taxing entities like the schools, and the fire department. They have huge responsibility. If there is any way we can be helpful to them or the schools to help them keep their taxes lower we should help. Because the health of the Town as a whole is why we're here.
Now for some lightning round questions: is the level of services too much, too little or just right in Lansing today? If not just right, what do you plan to do to adjust it?
From a tax payment standpoint I've already said that the town taxes are a small portion. I think in the newsletter that's going out we're going to have a pie chart that shows citizens what portion is really town taxes. It's very small compared to school and county taxes.
When I am in the Town hall that is a busy hive. I think while in some ways to reduce taxes you'd say 'let's trim everything'... well we are very trimmed. When I was first on the Town Board in 2000 we were paving eight to nine miles of road per year. That was our maintenance. We have a lot of roads and we now have more because we have adopted development roads.
That has been cut down to three miles of road per year. At that rate can you keep up proper maintenance? I don't think we can restrict that budget.
There are some who look at the Town of Lansing and the Parks and Rec and say 'you habve way more recreation programs than you need.' Well, why did people move to Lansing? Why did they build their big houses that are paying taxes? Because of the strength of the schools and because of the strength of the Recreation and Park programs.
How many full time people are running that program? Two?
It looks big, but it's a very small administrative group. It's very functional. Everybody does an incredible amount of work in the time they have, and it's a huge volunteer program. So the Town is saying 'we want these.' They wouldn't be volunteering for them and have the amount of kids signing up for them if it wasn't important to the town.
All the other departments -- everybody is working very hard. I don't see where you could pare administratively, or in support staff. It has been pared.
It seems that the town courts are busier these days.
Yes they are.
Should Lansing be looking at expanding its law enforcement, ie. Hiring a full time or more part time constables or considering a modest police force?
That's an interesting question. In my time going door to door out in the community I have not heard from people that they feel we are underserved as far as enforcement. I have not heard that there is a big issue with crimes that are unaddressed.
I have heard is we have more court cases. We also have more income because the volume has shifted so there is more income from court fees, even though they have more costs.
I think the court services are what will need more support and planning going forward. Right now when they have court we have a huge backlog of people that are milling about in the entryway so that people who are coming in to do regular town business are having to squeeze by angry people, people in chains... it just feels a little iffy. I think that pressure is going to increase.
So planning for another entrance to the court, perhaps a waiting room... and there is room to expand off the back of the building. You could say that's more taxes, but we have to make sure that people are safe. The court is an official office that has to be functional.
Will we have to pay for more enforcement time related to that? We might. We'll have to see how things go forward with Myers and Salt Point, but the amount of hours we had for people patrolling or on call was sufficient this year. I don't see that it needs a big bump at this point.
What do you bring to the Town Board that the other three candidates don't offer?
Oh gosh , I think we all share a lot of skills. One of the things that I bring is time and effort. I don't think you should do this job unless you're going to bring time and effort and I hope whoever wins will take it seriously and not just go to meetings, but will go to the secondary meetings and follow up on whatever is needed. There is so much to do, and everybody needs to carry their weight.
I am a hard worker. I'm committed to the effort. I put a lot of extra hours in. When I ran the first time I really didn't understand, but in my last term on the board I came to a critical understanding of what the term 'public servant' means. If you're a board member you are a public servant, and that means you are there for everybody. To listen to everybody. To do the work. Taxpayers don't have time to be involved in a lot. You have to put the effort in. You have to go to committee meetings. There are so many meetings. I may be going to three meetings a week.
But if you don't get there you make contact. You make sure you have input. You juggle what you can because you have a real life, and I have a very demanding job. But on Wednesdays, that's my Town Board day. I make calls and emails the other days and I spend a lot of weekend time on projects. I'm not afraid to back up my statements with effort.
Would you like to add anything we haven't talked about?
I would add that my combination of skills, and personality traits: I'm very easy going. I like consensus. I'm a good team player, and I want everybody I work with to try to be good team players and to try to have constructive team players. I have a lot of experience with mediation and improving communications. That's one piece.
The other piece is that I have a very strong science and art background. You may say 'what does art have to do with being a town board member?' It's the ability to take information and look at it and turn it in different directions and maybe come up with a solution that wasn't even on the table. So creative envisioning of possibilities. Problem solving.
The science skills are really artistic in that way. To be a good scientist you have to have that problem solving ability, but also to respect the data. To do the work. To get the proper information, the data, the numbers that are true. And to understand that some data is not relevant, and which of the data is important?
What they're finding in fracking waste water -- that's important data. So the science and the art I fell are very strong pieces for me to bring to the table.
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