- By Dan Veaner
So it was a big surprise when newly elected Supervisor Scott Pinney brought a five point agenda to the meeting on January 2, 2008 that set a new path for the Town of Lansing. Pinney spent the next four years leading the town to a leaner workforce and budget, with drops in the tax rate culminating in a 15% tax rate cut this year when the town tax bill comes out this January.
He has been clear about his agenda, whether people agreed with it or not, and he has not been shy about voting no even when there has been political pressure to vote yes. He voted no on this year's budget when the majority of council members set a tax rate cut at 15% instead of 33%, which Pinney said the budget could bear without strain. He has often been controversial, and has always spoken his mind. Pinney talked to the Lansing Star one last time last week to reflect on his four years as Supervisor, his accomplishments, the election, and the future.
Lansing Star: What would you say your legacy to the town as Supervisor is?
Scott Pinney: My biggest thing, obviously, was the budget, and really looking at things to make the town more efficient. Bringing different departments together and having them work together instead of keeping everything separate... looking at employee benefits... things like that.
I think we were able to economize, but still have the same or better services for everybody. You can see the money that we were able to save with the tax rate cuts that we've had. Right now we have approximately four million dollars in fund balance, compared to abut two millinon when I started. We've paid off all the town debt other than special districts. Even with the 15% tax rate drop this year we anticipate an additional six or seven hundred thousand dollars added to the fund balance next year.
So I think the numbers was one of the things I was good at.
LS: You weren't able to make the meeting where they finally voted for a 15% tax rate drop instead of 33% or higher. I remember thinking 'when Scott Pinney hears about that he'll be unhappy' because it's not enough of a tax drop.
SP: You know, not really. That's the issue -- we all have different views and different ideas. Even though we were proposing a 44% cut, no matter what the cut was, even at 15%... that's fine. Because next year they'll look at it again, and hopefully instead of adding money to the budget -- adding jobs or adding things that are not necessary -- they'll take a good look at the budget again and keep things working the way they are, and make another good sized cut next year.
The thing with the board is you do what in your opinion is the best way to go, and vote that way. But never get upset about it. That's the way it ends up. You work with everybody on it.
LS: So you never thought of it in terms of that being a ding to your legacy?
SP: Oh God, no. To me a 15% cut really shows where we're at. There's no reason why next year, if they cut another 15%, it should still leave them the ability to cut the following year and the following year.
We were looking at a three year plan, so it just means larger cuts the next few years... or make it a five or six year plan. So that will still work very well, too.
And that gives them a tremendous amount of protection with the different things that are happening. If AES goes out -- I believe that is less than 10% of our budget at this point so we would easily have the money to cover that and still lower the tax rate.
So as long as they cut it I'm happy. If they didn't cut it, that would be irresponsible. But a 15% cut is fine, absolutely.
Even though I didn't vote for that I'm not upset over it. I thought they should have cut it at least in the twenties this year, but I'm not upset with it by any means.
LS: Everything is ongoing in governments. Is there any one thing you wish you could have finished before you go?
SP: There are a couple of things.
The stand-alone sewer system is very important to the Town. We're right at the stage now where we're going to start having public informational meetings. I would like to be involved in that after (my term ends at) the first of the year. That's the one thing I see that i can add a lot of value to.
LS: Are you thinking of joining the Sewer Committee?
SP: Yes. I actually spoke to the other members of the board to say I would like to chair that committee.
So that's one thing I would like to carry through. Because, as you say, things go on that I've been very involved in, so I want to continue with that.
Then we have the water tank on Bone Plain Road that will help pressurize the low pressure area around Whispering Pines and Warren Road. That's something that's ongoing.
And certainly the town center, which is a huge project in itself.
LS: That one probably wouldn't have been completed within one more term.
SP: Right, that's going to take years and years and years, and it's going to be ongoing.
LS: What's happening with the sale of the land for the town center from the state to the town?
SP: We appealed their decision on the price, and we're hoping they can lower it.
LS: Were there other things you hoped to see to their finish?
SP: There are lots of little things, but those are the main things going on right now.
LS: A few weeks after you were elected we talked, and you were already hitting some walls. You talked about the differences between being a business owner and a town supervisor. I remember how we talked about how as supervisor you couldn't just say 'this should happen' and the next day it would happen. Did you ever come to terms with that?
SP: I did. It took me a few years. It's very difficult when you're used to being able to just get things done right away. In government it just seems to drag on and on. You've got to keep plugging away. It's certainly a very different scenario between private and public business.
LS: Do you prefer one over the other at this point, having been Supervisor for four years?
SP: Absolutely I like my private business more. (laughs)
When I first started as Supervisor I had somebody else run my business for a while, and I spent all my time here. But I micro-managed the town stuff. It really taught me how to step back and oversee, not only the town stuff, but in my own business as well.
LS: One of the things I noticed along those lines was that you certainly were a strong leader in terms of trying to drive things to happen. But when there was push-back I started noticing you forming citizen's committees. It seemed to become part of your modis operandi. Is that what was happening?
SP: Yes. You get a lot of push-back, but you set up the committee and get a lot of different viewpoints on what you're trying to do.
The real problem with that, though, is... you talk about governments being slow, but when you set the committees up it really slows it down unless you have a really strong chair who really knows how to get things done.
If you don't have the right chair on those committees, you sent them over there to kind of hide them, and sometimes nothing ever comes of them.
LS: Was that a good thing or a bad thing? Arguably you have had some very strong, effective committees and some less strong.
SP: Yes. And you clearly see that some of our committees were strong and getting things done, and other ones just slowed things down and nothing really came of them.
LS: Do you have any recourse at that point?
SP: It's very difficult. One of the hard things about being the Town Supervisor is that there are so many different things going on. Some of the projects that I just mentioned are huge things in themselves. But then you start dealing with personnel issues, daily operations of the town, the public's issues here and there... you're time to concentrate and push all of the projects is limited.
When I first started that's what I was trying to do. Then I realized you really have to concentrate on the ones that you think are the most important and push for those. I think that's where you saw me set up some committees, because I just didn't have the time to push all of them myself.
The ones that had good chairs really pushed their projects, while the ones that didn't slowed theirs down.
LS: Let me ask you about the election. I've got to say that everybody was assuming everything before that election happened. So people were assuming you were going to run. People were assuming that you weren't going to run, and everything in between.
Did you say at one point that you were just going to serve one term and then not run again?
SP: I don't think I ever really said that. When I first got elected I really didn't know what I was truly getting into. The main goal at that point was to get elected in the first place! Then when I got into it I don't think I ever really talked about (another term).
LS: Going into the caucus had you thought about not running, or were you always going to run, or what were you thinking about?
SP: I went to the caucus well prepared to run. I called some people, brought some people with me. I give Kathy Miller a lot of credit, because she brought a tremendously large number of people. I've never seen that many people ever at a caucus.
LS: Yes, that was a pretty well attended caucus.
SP: Very well attended. So I give her a lot of credit. She beat me at the caucus, and at that point I threw my hat in and decided to move on.
LS: I wondered if you felt strongly about things going a certain way -- and you and Kathy definitely have different points of view...
LS: ...not necessarily about what's ultimately best for the town so much as the best way to get there.
LS: At the time I wondered whether you would run anyway, doing basically what Connie (Wilcox) did, running as an independent. And I was also hearing rumors that the Republicans were interested in you.
SP: The night of the caucus I told you I wasn't going to run. I knew at that point I wasn't going to run. When Kathy got the Democratic backing, even though we have different views I felt that she is a very strong worker and she would do a great job. So I felt comfortable. I didn't have to be the Supervisor. She could take my place and do a good job.
If I felt that there wasn't a qualified candidate there I would have continued to run.
LS: So you didn't have that political itch?
SP: My main concern is for the Town. I felt that as long as somebody really qualified was running, I felt comfortable.
LS: Do you think you would like to run for office again?
SP: Probably some day.
LS: Town, county, state, federal?
SP: Yup. (laughs) My sons think I should run for governor... but probably not!
It was a very good experience for me. I really enjoyed being politically involved. Certainly at some point in my life I will be back into politics doing something, I don't know what.
LS: Will you stay registered as a Democrat?
SP: No I would definitely switch to Republican.
LS: The reason I asked that question is something I've said to you before, and you've probably heard this from a thousand people: that you are the most Republican Democrat I've ever met.
SP: Right. I knew that. Originally I was a Republican and then I switched to Democrat. I actually did change back to Republican. I don't know if you knew that yet.
LS: I had heard a rumor that you were thinking of doing that.
SP: If I go on in politics I would certainly have to be a Republican, because I couldn't move much beyond local politics (as a Democrat).
LS: Is that because the Democratic Party is less supportive of you as a potential candidate than the Republican party?
SP: I think they would be, wouldn't you?
I would assume that most Democrats, certainly on a higher level, would not support me because my views are so Republican.
LS: What you would say the toughest thing has been in your term?
SP: One of the sad things I learned in politics that I didn't realize before is that we all sit up there as a board, we all have different views. When we're up there we respect each others' views, and they're very different. But as you argue and vote the way you are going to vote, I hear that people take these things personally. They begrudge you and there are a lot of comments made in public because you did this or that. It's a very sad thing in my opinion, because for the most part we're all here doing what we think is right for the town to our best ability. That's what makes it a Democracy, for us to do what we think is the right thing.
So I think it's very important, whether you are in politics or in the public, not to take things personally. Nobody's here to come after anybody. I think as a journalist you probably see that or hear about that.
LS: I do and I'll freely admit that when that happens the stories in the newspaper are more eye-catching and interesting to read. But that doesn't make it more productive for the government.
SP: Right, I'm strongly on one side and there's another person strongly on the other side... I hear people say it to me. You shouldn't say stuff like that. That's their opinion and you should respect that. If you don't like the direction they are trying to take the town in, then don't vote for them next time. But don't say personally negative things about them.
That's one of the sad parts of government.
LS: I asked all the candidates about the Town and village working relationship when I interviewed them in the campaign. I think there's a perception that the working relationship has deteriorated. My own take on that is that the snow plowing disagreement set that off. When there's talk about a village seceding r being merged back into a town then things aren't that cordial. What's your take on that?
SP: I believe the snow plowing incident certainly put some strain on the relationship between the Village and the Town. I strongly feel that the Village should be joined back into the Town, eliminating the Village.
A few years ago I actually went as far as to talk to the Mayor and say, 'I feel so strongly about this that I would give up my seat and try to have the Board vote you as Town Supervisor to make that easier for everybody. You would have some say as to what is going on'.
The bottom line is there would be a huge money savings, not only for the Village people but for the Town people also, because you have so much duplication here.
I think that's one of the biggest problems we have in government, is that you duplicate so many things. It just makes no sense to me to have the two governments.
LS: What advice do you have for Kathy when she takes office in January?
SP: My number one piece of advice is that you need to have knowledge of everything, but don't try to tackle everything all at once. Concentrate on some of the things that you really want to accomplish, and do those extremely well instead of doing everything and not putting in the time and effort to make them all excellent.