- By -
Ronny Hardaway is completing his first term as Village of Lansing Trustee, and is running for a second. He and his wife Deborah Dawson moved to the Village in April of 2009 after Hardaway retired from a career as a software engineer at Texas Instruments. They have two children and one grandchild. He still does Web site development. Hardaway chairs the Village Greenway Committee and has been instrumental in the development of the new village park on Northwoods Road.
Lansing Star: Why are you running and what will make you a good Trustee? What qualifications do you bring?
Ronny Hardaway: I'm running because I want to be involved in local government that makes a difference in people's lives. Politics in general bother me because the politicians are so removed from most of their constituents, but at the local level it's up close and personal. That's why I'm running, and also to help the Village.
Qualifications: I was a supervisor at times at Texas Instruments, depending upon my role. I managed teams of people and did pretty well. I'm fairly good at assessing skills of people as they work together and putting those together on a team to get something done.
I'm interested in making the Village work for every resident. I would like to see businesses improve, our commercial industry and commercial districts improve, the quality of life improve, and so forth. It's a small village. We have constraints in space and so forth, but we do have a lot of spaces that need to be filled. I have been a good trustee and I think I can can continue to be a good trustee.
I've been asking each candidate the “elephant in the room” question to get it out of the way: if the zoning change on the Bomax Road lot were to be voted on a second time, how would you vote and why?
I would vote the very same way. I did probably close to 80 hours of research on that decision for myself, because it was my first major decision as a trustee, I felt, beyond the budgets. This was a fairly major decision. it had the ability to change lives.
So I did about 80 hours of research. A good part of that was compiling all of the concerns from all of the voices and letters and petitions and so forth that were forwarded to the Board, so that I could address each of those with research, to allay fears or confirm fears.
Most of the concerns about that decision from the residents of Lansing Trails and Heights of Lansing were anecdotal. They weren't really based on fact: they were based on fear. The facts that I learned said that a lot of what they were concerned with -- except, probably, for the increase in traffic volume. It will still be a normal volume of traffic. It won't be anything egregious.
Let me interrupt for a second to ask: by "normal" do you mean... when they do traffic studies they talk about what the capacity of a road is. Is that what you are referring to?
Well within that capacity. Most people are going to be going out toward Warren Road. They're not going to be going through the multi-section roads through Lansing Trails and Heights of Lansing. There will be a few, and there are a few now. But there are good traffic controls. We have intersections, stop signs, curves, and angle turns that slow people down.
The traffic concern is the only one, and that's a major concern throughout the village, because I don't feel like we have enough sidewalks.
My decision would be exactly the same. I would vote exactly the same. We followed all the laws and we followed our own consciences. We looked at all the information from the Planning Board and our Code Enforcement Officer and attorneys and so forth, and there was no reason not to down-zone that piece of property from Business and Technology to High Density Residential.
I don't want to make the whole interview about this, but I want to follow up with this question: most of the board members talked about the decision being good for the Village as a whole. So what made it a good decision for the whole Village versus the one neighborhood?
As the property stands now we get minor tax money even though there's nothing on it. If a business were built there at some point we would also get taxes. But that property has sat there for decades without any construction. Cornell obviously gave up their hopes of putting some sort of business and technology business there.
We have someone coming in now that wants to put in high density residential so we'll get a substantial bump in our tax revenue from that, which will relieve taxes for all residents within the Village. It will help with the infrastructure and so forth. it's a good thing.
Plus it's going to have places for people to live. At least their early plans show it will have trails that are going to connect into our trails, so it will be part of the "walkabiity" of the Village.
But generally it's mostly that the land has been lying fallow. Nothing was happening with it, but now we have something that's going to be there that will allow more residents to come in and spend local money and also provide tax (revenue from) the apartments.
What key challenges do you see the Village facing in the next two years?
We have a big sewer project that we'll be working on. Also a lot of our water line infrastructure is reaching its sunset age. We've had several water main breaks over the winter. I think that within the next twwo years we'll probably have to do some major work on those, to replace them, which is going to displace traffic and the residents a little bit, but I think it's good to be pro-active with those.
Those are the major things. Another potential problem is once the power plant closes in the Town of Lansing the tax hit on everyone in the County could bump up substantially. We don't know yet, but I think that could be a problem, which is another reason to get more taxes through other means.
I think water and sewer are the biggest problem. Our roads are in pretty good shape. Again, I think those are the biggest hits.
What would you like to make happen that the current board has not worked on?
I don't really have anything that we have not worked on. The Village Board has been pretty good about foresight. The one thing I would like to see that we haven't done enough of is putting in sidewalks. I would like to see them in new developments, or at least paved pathways to get walking people off of the road shoulders. I know they have widened the shoulders, but it's very discomforting to walk down the road.
I live on Dart Drive, which is one of the major roads as far as traffic and foot traffic. Because there are no sidewalks you just never know. Someone could blow a tire if you are there, and it's just dangerous.
But as far as what the village government hasn't done, I don't have anything in mind that they haven't done. I would just like to do more for what they have been doing.
Part of what isn't done yet is this new park.
Yes. It's underway. The DPW has been clearing the underbrush and the dead trees and trees we don't want in the park for safety reasons. We will continue work on that. We hope to have everything done and installed by fall. It just depends on what sort of problems we run into. We have to do a little bit of storm water work to direct water away from the park and into the stream that runs through that property. We've already got lay ground equipment selected for it. Its just a matter of putting out our request for quotes or bids, and getting that back and buying it and installing it.
The Greenway Committee has not been active for some time. Is this something you want to reboot, or is the intent of the committee being fulfilled without a committee? Also, when the new park near Northwoods is complete will there be enough public parks in the Village? (Will Poison Ivy Point ever be a park?)
I thought the Greenway was fallow, but apparently it still exists and you've been working with them?
Yes, I'm the Chair of the Greenway Committee. We have representatives from the Planning Board, the Board of Zoning Appeals and community representatives. We have been working since August of 2015 on updating the Greenway Plan. it was originally written in 1994 and it's never been updated. So we are updating that to make it more current.
During that time we started work on the park. I asked the Greenway Committee to take a hands-on approach to that: to walk it, determine what trees we would like to save, work with the DPW, and also have one of those members go through the bid process, as I did on another project, to learn how to place bids and potentially take some workload off of (DPW Superintendent) John Courtney so he doesn't have to worry about that -- he can just do the work.
Once that park is completed will there be enough parks in the Village?
I don't know if there will be enough parks. It will be a major park. The Village is fairly small, and we have that park, Dankert Park, the little Village Park across from Dankert Park, and Shannon Park, which is a little pocket park. We've identified those. We have some other green space.
Like Poison Ivy Point
Related to the Poison Ivy Point park, Deborah and I visited Acadia National Park in Maine. They have Jordan Pond there. A possibility for that park would be to build a boardwalk through it. What they did is there is one complete side of this pond that is a nature preserve. It's marshy, so they've raised a walk, probably a mile and a quarter of it is nothing like boardwalk.
Like what they have at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology bird sanctuary?
Yes. it would just be a longer version, so that might be a possibility. We'd have to check with the DPW staff to see if there is a better way of doing that that's got longer life, because wood in water is just going to rot after a while. And we've got to get the legal access resolved first (the railroad owns the right of way across railroad tracks between the land side and Poison Ivy Point). That's obviously the biggest road block. But people are still going out there and it's unsafe.
As far as the number of parks, we do have a good number of parks. We have a lot of green spaces, too, that won't be parks. They're just places that we try to keep naturally green to break the monotony of residences and neighborhoods and businesses, which is part of the Greenway Plan, too.
Our Greenway Plan will refer to -- at least temporarily it's my proposal that we call them "connecting corridors" -- trails, sidewalks, pathways. Anything that connects green space to neighborhoods and neighborhoods to green spaces or parks, and also connects to the municipalities around us.
We have been working with the Roger and Ruth Hopkins (of the former Town Trailways Committee). They still have all of their information. We would like (our trails) to join up at some point. We have plans on paperto try to do that, but we would have to get some right-of-ways and easements to from landowners to see if we can do that.
We're working on it. The Greenway Committee has been going since August or September of 2015. We were working on the plan, and we got sidetracked by the new park on Northwoods Drive. We also had to do an emergency order for replacement equipment for the little Village Park because the wooden equipment there is disintegrating.
OK, we'll leave the parks and go into the business zones. At this point with most Village business-zoned areas built out, what should municipality be doing to support business here?
We kind of have to take a hands-off approach. We can do as much as possible within what they want to do and not impact the residents that surround those (zones). We have a lot of empty commercial buildings or offices within buildings. I would like to see those filled. The mall is a good money generator. In fact, our whole business district is a good money generator for the entire county. I would like to see all of that grow and be better.
I would also like to see more of the County's tax monies that we contribute to -- a greater percentage of that come back to us. But I don't know how we'll ever effect that. I'd like to try.
Like we did with the down-zoning decision, you have to treat each instance of a business change or expansion or insertion as its own entity and evaluate that, and help as much as we can to be sure it's within the constraints and guidance of our zoning code, which is the reason the Village was formed.
I would like to see our businesses be more robust and successful. Anything that we can do as a small village government to help that, I would be for as long as it doesn't impact the need for good residences and distance from residences to make it an enjoyable place to live and work.
The big split in the Village is school districts. I know this is theoretical because the Village government doesn't have the authority to do it, but would you favor redistricting so that the whole village was in one school district, either Lansing or Ithaca? I am asking because it has to do with the Village of Lansing being a village without a village center. Schools are a big center of community.
I tend to agree with that. Being on Dart Drive Deborah and I experienced that personally because it's almost like a checkerboard effect down our street -- who is in Ithaca and who is in Lansing. We happen to be in the Lansing school district. Recently I was working with a youth committee for the County I noticed how this was done. Nobody understands why it was done this way. It's just a checkerboard.
I would favor trying to get the Lansing community consolidated into one school district. I agree with you -- I think it would help make the Lansing village and town community a shared community by sharing schools. i think it would be good to have those within one school district.
The way things are at this moment I don't see how that would happen. Drawing school district lines is extremely political, but I would favor that. I would work with that if it ever started. I would do everything I could do to make it happen one way or the other. To have neighbors living side by side going to two different schools -- and you have two sets of school buses potentially coming down the street. There are all sorts of things that can be resolved and made better by consolidating them.
Village officials say the Village will never merge with the Town and there is no cost benefit in doing it. And that the culture of the Town and the Village is so different that it wouldn't be a good fit. Town officials say there is a cost benefit and the cultures and values of the municipalities are much closer together than they were when the Village was formed. How do you stand on a possible future merging, and why?
If we ever merged it would have to be a gradual process. I tend to agree some with the Town. I think the political and personal atmosphere of the culture that was going on at the time the Village was formed... I think a lot of that has changed, but I don't think enough of it has changed to the point where we could do an immediate merge.
I would rather see services and costs and improvements shared first, to see how well the two governments can work together, and then merge. I still feel at this point there would be a political pull in one direction or the other. The political separation might prevent that merge anyway, because I think it would ultimately come down to a vote and I think the political vote would still keep us separate. That may change in the future and it might not. But I would like to see at least some sharing of the abilities and the costs and resources between the Village and the Town.
We do do that somewhat now. I would like to see more of it done.
I want to talk about taxes. One piece is that Mayor Hartill has been on the war path for many years to make the value of services Villagers receive better match taxes they pay. The other part is the 18% tax rise in Vuillage taxes this year. Dollar-wise it's not a lot, but percentage-wise it's quite large. Where do you stand on that issue, and what will you do to work on it?
Part of that problem is we had stopped raising taxes just before the tax cap came in. Expenses and projects have happened in between and we need to make up some of that just to put enough in our budget to have a cushion. The cushion is there for emergencies -- the capital reserves dedicated to water, sewer, or roads. .You need to keep that cushion high because you just never know.
As I was saying, if you have major water main breaks and we have to replace them in an emergency, that's going to be a major hit. So we're basically trying to make up what would have been a more gradual increase for the tax cap to now. I think that we'll probably see smaller rises in the future, but that remains to be seen.
The good thing about the Village is they're very conservative about their budget. The State mandates that if you have a certain amount of money you have to spend a certain amount of money or they ding you on the state audits. It's a fine line we have to walk.
As far as the services the Village receives from the town: it seems that we pay a lot more to the Town than we get in services. Again, that's gradually improving -- probably not fast enough for the Mayor. Not fast enough for me, as a matter of fact. But I would like to see that gradually increase. The Town has been receptive to that and willing to work with us. It's just that we haven't gotten all the bugs worked out yet. Because they have resources -- they have needs for all of their money and all of their resources and all of their staff. They have their own projects and it's hard to schedule and merge the two together because our schedules may be divergent and you can't throw resources at one or the other. They have to go in both directions.
That's part of the voting process, too. It's a major change if we ever tried to merge.
What would you like people to know about your candidacy that we haven't already discussed?
This was my first time in a government position. It was a learning process. I strove to learn and I enjoy working with the people. We have a good staff, and I enjoy working with them. I think we have a good village and I think we have improving relations with the Town, so that's all positive. But as far as my candidacy, I want to see government continue as-is. We have a good government.
The opposition that we have this year is single-issue. It will be dangerous to the community to have people come into office with a grudge, an axe to grind, and not really paying attention to what has to be done to keep the Village working.
Everyone that I've worked with within the Village: they work hard. They put their heart and soul into it. They ask questions and they make decisions. We listen and work well together. My second term would just be more of the same. I would learn more and gather more and do more.