wilcox 201109 120Connie Wilcox is running for Lansing Town Supervisor as an Independent.  We caught up to her last week to ask abut her candidacy and how she would steer Lansing if elected.

Wilcox has lived in Lansing all her life.  She grew up in North Lansing, where her father was a founder of the North Lansing Fire Department.  Her mother has been a force of nature (and current president) of the North Lansing Auxiliary, and Wilcox is currently treasurer.  She is married to Ed Wilcox, and has two sons, Scott and Charlie Purcell, and two grandsons, Daniel and Alex.

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She is completing her second term as Town Councilwoman, and has served as Deputy Supervisor in the current term.  Wilcox served as Director of Emergency Medical Services, Lieutenant and Captain for the Lansing Fire Department, and is currently a Commissioner on the Bolton Point Water Commission, as well as Town liaison to the Lansing Fire Department and the Lansing Housing Authority.  She chairs the committee that is developing an Ag Land Protection Plan for the Town.  She started the Lansing Farmer's Market, which received a County Sustainability Award from Tompkins County, and participated on the oversight committee for a $400,000 Community Block Development grant.  She and former board member Matt Besemer arranged for the Town to collect school taxes.

She is retired from Bovis Lend Lease, where she was the director of Business Development, and retired this month from Genoa Sand & Gravel, where she was office manager.

Lansing Star: Why are you running for Supervisor?

Connie Wilcox: I'm running because I think a lot of my community and the Town of Lansing have a real vested interest.  I've been on the Board for eight years.  I think my experience on the board makes me a better candidate.

Kathy has only been on the board for two years.  Even if she doesn't win the Supervisor election she will still be on the board.  My fear is that we turn over everyone on the board, and then we have a lot of inexperienced board members.  Not that some of them aren't experienced politicians.

I think Lansing is a great place.  It's a great community.  I want to give back to my community.  I think that i've done a good job over the past eight years.  Even before I ran as a Town Board member i attended board meetings religiously for a couple of years to figure out what was going on.  By the time I was elected I was up to speed.

Steve Farkas was a great mentor at that time.  I gained a lot of experience in that first four years.  I've gained even more experience in the second four years.

I want to be available to my constituents.  I want to be at the Town hall when somebody wants to see me.  With all that we have going on right now you need to be available.

LS: The perception around town is that Kathy will bring more vision to the Supervisor position and you will keep taxes down.  How do you address that?

CW: I don't know what Kathy would bring as far as more vision goes.  We both envision a town center.  At this point we're not moving forward with that because we still don't have the restrictions removed from the land across from the Town Hall.  We don't have anything from the State yet as far as purchasing the property.

I think our Economic Development Committee has done a tremendous job of trying to bring more business into town.  We need that tax base.

I think the Town Center Committee did a really good job of putting together some drawings, but I think that's kind of stalled.  I haven't seen a lot more as far as that vision goes.  The Town spent a lot of money to get that plan put together, and we spent some additional money to get some drawings.  So far I've not seen anything move forward, so I don't know how you can say Kathy has a better vision than I have.

I have always envisioned us coming back to a town center where we would have some of the amenities that the other little towns around have.  I feel my vision is the same.  I would love to see a little promenade in the center of the Town where people would meet and greet.  You'd have a coffee shop and an ice cream shop and those kinds of things.

I have that vision, but I don't want to put a lot of burden on the taxpayers either.  We need to go out and look for businesses to come in and to develop this kind of thing.  But until we get some infrastructure in place our hands are tied.

I've started pursuing a grant through the regional council for sewer.  I have gotten the application and started filling it out.  As soon as we get our survey back from Hunt Engineers I plan to put the nuts and bolts in there and hopefully we can get some money to pursue that.

That's another thing -- I don't want to put all of that on the backs of the taxpayers either, because not everyone will benefit from it.

LS: Do you think Lansing is at a crossroads in its history right now?  If so, what are the top issues the Town will face in the next four years?

CW: One of the biggest issues is whether AES Cayuga is going to remain.  Their taxes are going down because of the PILOT program (renegotiations with the County).  For years people depended on that big power plant as being the big generator of money in the Town.  i think it was short sited to think that eventually there wouldn't be other alternatives coming along and that we could always depend on them as our biggest taxpayer.

As we can see, that's not happening now, so we have to plan for that future.

Yes, we are at a crossroads.  Do we want to develop the Town center?  Do we want to bring more business in?  I've heard some people say they don't want that change.  They want the rural character of the Town to remain the way it is.  But in order for us to be a viable community we have to change.  We have to bring some of that commercial activity in.

We have to bring in some multi-family housing and perhaps some more senior housing.  All of those things are important to keep everybody here that has lived here a good share of their life or all of their life.

We are at a crossroads and we have to decide what we're going to do.  Are we going to sit here and still be a bedroom community or are we going to move forward and make it a viable community to live in where people don't have to travel to get what they need?  We're definitely at a crosswords.

LS:  I know a there plan is being developed that will be a lot less expensive to accomplish than the last attempt.  Do you think it should be a shovel-ready project waiting for funding, or something the Town should aggressively pursue to make it happen sooner?  What kind of time frame would you see as Supervisor?

CW: With all the federal money that is going to be available for infrastructure over the next few years I would definitely want us to have a shovel-ready project.

I certainly would aggressively move forward with getting funding for that and work on getting the grants that are available for infrastructure.  I think once we're looking at putting the shovel in the ground within a year we would have the sewer.

LS: So you are saying we could anticipate sewer in 2014?

CW: I would like to say that we could anticipate sewer in 2014.

LS: When I worked on the article about road maintenance in Lansing I was surprised at how drastically the schedule has fallen behind because of lower budgets and higher costs.  Town taxes have been held at bay, but with soaring costs has that gone too far?  How will the Town pay for infrastructure maintenance?

CW: Right, costs came up at the same time.  I think that our road maintenance and any of our infrastructure is one of the biggest things that we need to take care of, because everyone in the Town uses those roads.  I think the highway department has been very judicious in trying to keep their budget down every year.  Of course there are some things they can't control.  Other things they can.

What they have done is worked on the roads that are in the worst shape.  The long term plan was that so many miles of road would be done each year and that has not happened.

I would like to go back to putting that plan back in place so we can plan for it.  We would have the money available to do that, and it wouldn't have to be an extra burden.  We wouldn't have to raise the tax rate a tremendous amount to do that.

LS: As you know the fire district has a 20 year financial plan, and they have managed to stay on that plan for years.

CW: They have, and they are putting that addition on the fire station at no additional cost to the taxpayers.  I was at their meeting a couple of weeks ago and there's a possibility their tax rate is going to go down another two cents.  They're doing a good job.

I think anybody, whether it's a private business or a public entity shoul dhave some kind of 20 year capital plan.  Of course it has to be reviewed every year.  I really think that's the only way to go, because how do you plan for the future if you don't?

Our highway department is probably one of the biggest priorities in the Town.  Eventually there is going to be more water and sewer that they are going to have to take care of, so I don't think it's far fetched to sketch in a 20 year plan.  Then you review it every couple of years to see where you're at.

I'd really like to see us put some sort of a plan in place.

LS: Lansing has taken some criticism for responding too slowly to the fracking issues.  Both you and Kathy have said that you thought dealing with fracking is one of the top issues we're facing.

CW: I think that a lot of people think that's one of the top issues.  I feel it is foremost, but it's a very divisive issue.  A lot of landowners have leased their land, and they hope to gain financially from these gas leases.  Other people are scared to death of it.

I think there needs to be a lot more studying done.  In Canada they do the fracking with propane.  They don't use chemicals.  They say that Pennsylvania has been destroyed, but if you drive down to Pennsylvania and talk to the farmers there, they're elated because they have gained financially.  They are able to keep their farms going, where they weren't before.  As with any industry there is always an unknown (factor).  To do an outright ban, as the Town of Dryden and another town in Otsego county has found -- they're being sued.  Is that a good use of taxpayers' money, to fight those lawsuits?

LS: I was in Pennsylvania last Friday and I have to say I was surprised at how much impact fracking obviously has there.  The number of trucks -- even the billboards we saw were come-ons to the mining companies to buy materials.  The large amount of truck traffic and the poor quality of the roads were the two things that really stood out.  I tried picturing that here and I didn't like it.

CW: that's the problem.  You're going to have a lot of heavy truck traffic.  But that's why you need to get some sort of road maintenance agreement with the drilling companies in place right up front.  They are more than willing to do that.

Fortunately in our area we're not really targeted for drilling as they are in the southern tier of the state.  I think we may dodge a bullet there, but we have to be prepared.  We can put some zoning ordinances into place that will take care of a lot of that and discourage drilling in certain areas.  I think we can say there are certain areas in our town where we won't allow drilling.  Whether that would stand up in court I have no idea.  But we certainly don't want it in the middle of a residential area.

Some of the big farms may want to explore that.  There is a land coalition between Tompkins and Cortland County farmers.  They're trying to get the best dollar they can for the leases of their land.  And they're all taxpayers, too.

So it's a very divisive issue.  I'd have to see a lot more information on it before I would take a staunch stand one way or the other.  I'm not for banning anything, because I think people should be entitled to do what they want with their land.  They pay taxes on it.  But I also think we have to be very cognizant of their neighbors.  They pay taxes as well.

LS: Another infrastructure question: how important is rural broadband in Lansing now?  How should the Town be involved in procuring it?

CW: I think it's very important for the Town, especially in rural areas where there isn't broadband.  I think the Town needs to contribute.  We're certainly supportive of anything that the County is trying to do as far as getting broadband into the rural areas.

So yes, I think we should contribute to it and everybody should have it if they want it.  If you live in the northern part of this town it's dialup or off a tower, which doesn't work really well.  So I'm very much in favor of doing whatever it takes financially -- within reason, of course -- to get broadband here.

LS: Town-Village relations seem to have really deteriorated in the past four years, especially since the disagreement on snow plowing.  Now the Mayor wants villagers' town taxes reduced from $700,000 to $100,000 because he says they don't get $700,000 worth of services from the Town.  Does Village-Town relations need to be a priority and what, if anything, will you do to improve them if elected?

CW: I definitely think the relationship has deteriorated.  A lot of it started over snow plowing and road maintenance in the Village.  You can not put all the blame on (current Supervisor Scott Pinney).  That started before Scott came on board.  Bud Shattuck brought it up, and after Scott was elected he pursued it.

I would definitely like to work on a better relationship.  It would behove us to have joint Town and village Board meetings. I think our planning boards should have joint meetings, because anything that the Town does could impact the amount of traffic in the Village and vice versa.

I feel badly that we don't have a good relationship like we did when Steve Farkas was Supervisor, but I think it can be rebuilt.

As far as taxes goes, it is State law that villagers within a town pay a town tax whether they get those services or not.  All the services the Town has are available to village residents.  The parks, the rec program, a lot of villagers don't take advantage of because their children are in the Ithaca City School District.

LS: Would you favor rezoning the school districts so all Lansing children go to Lansing schools?

CW: It certainly could be pursued, but I wonder how it would impact the Lansing School District -- I'm not sure how many students would be involved.

I think if we had a better working relationship with the Village some of these things might go away.  That would be my goal.

I'm on a couple of boards with (Village Mayor Donald Hartill) and I think we have a pretty good working relationship.  So I'd be more than willing to talk with him and see what kind of solution we could come to so everybody's happy.  But I don't think the Village not paying town taxes is the solution.

LS: What unique skills and experience will you bring to the position of Supervisor?

CW: Experience is the number one thing.  I've been on the board for eight years.  In my prior careers I've been in management positions every place that I've worked.  I was in a management position at Deanco when i was there.   I was business Development Coordinator at Bovis when I was there.  I worked on multi-million dollar projects, and a lot of them were municipal projects.  So I have a lot of knowledge of the workings of towns and villages and counties.

My big thing is availability.  I will definitely be available.  I will have regular business hours at the Town Hall.  if someone can't make it there during regular business hours I'll be more than happy to set up an apointment for an evening or a weekend just to listen to them.

I think I have the leg up on experience as far as being Supervisor, and I am ready to do it full time.