lavigne_120Ed LaVigne decided early that he would be running for Lansing Town Board, and he hit the ground running.  He was handing out campaign buttons as early as May.  He is running as a fiscal conservative with the twist that he will blend community volunteerism with municipal goals to make the community better and stronger.

He grew up in Lansing and has lived here most of his life.  He and his wife Debbie have two children and five grandchildren.  He is a pharmacist at Tops Market.  As president of the Lansing Community Council he has been a leader in countless initiatives that have resulted in the reconstruction of the North Log Cabin, the Myers Park Playground Project (which he dubbed MP3), a successful appeal to raise money for the Lansing Food Pantry, and many other such projects, some of which are in the works now.  He has also been very active at Lansing United Methodist Church, heading up the bi-annual rummage sale for many years, coordinating Red Cross blood drives, co-chairing crop walks, and acting as a lay minister.

LaVigne says that participating on the Town Board is the next step in his involvement in the community.  He shared some of that vision with the Lansing Star last week.

Lansing Star: Why are you running for Town Board?

Ed LaVigne: I think there's a need.  There is a need for someone to move the town forward.  I think there is a need now because of the situation with AES, with our business structure.  i think our way of life might be in danger of changing because of the economics.  Those are the main reasons why I am stepping forward and getting more involved in the Lansing community.

LS: What makes you the better choice?

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EL: I say this reluctantly because I have a hard time talking about myself.  If you look at the successes, even though it says 'Ed LaVigne did this...' it's because I had an awful large number of wonderful volunteers that have helped me.  So this isn't about Ed LaVigne.  This is about what WE did.

Take the example of the North Log Cabin structure.  That was Lansing's project and Lansing's success.  You look at the playground -- that was Lansing's success, because Lansing did that.  You look at the appeal for the food pantry and how people responded with $8,000 in kind so they could buy things that aren't covered for the Lansing Food pantry -- that was Lansing's success.  You look at the Harbor Festival, which is chaired by Karen Veaner.  My role there was to support her any way that I could along with the other volunteers.  That was Lansing's success.

That's all grass roots.  There is no taxpayer money involved with any of these.

You look at the fireworks.  We were moving forward in uncharted water.  Lansing responded to that.  This is Lansing's success.  Ed LaVigne might be the lightning rod or the poster boy, but the bottom line is that without Lansing, Lansing won't succeed.  My ability, it seems, is to rally people in a positive direction to look at the big picture and what really is important, and to put our differences aside and move forward.

I seem to have this ability, and I don't know why, to unify people.  To get them moving in a positive direction for one goal.  Everybody puts their oars in the water and you all pull at the same time, and then the ship moves.  And you go again.  And you pull again and we get going.  Then all of a sudden more people want to jump on and pull.

That seems to be what happened in Lansing.   There was a void of community.  I had an ability to look at it from a business structure, but also be able to rally the community, this hugely untapped resource we have here in Lansing.  If you look at the results over five years, that wasn't a corporate entity.  It was community.

When you look at the things I mentioned, it was all community.  All volunteers, all grass roots based.  It is an untapped resource.

LS: Is Lansing at a crossroads at this point in its history?

EL: Crossroads?

LS: For example, I see the town center as a new direction in the reality of planning in Lansing.

EL: I would disagree.  We're not at a crossroads.  We're at a point where we're ready.  We're ready now.  This is where we're going to go forward.

We are ready to move forward with the land across the street (from the Town Hall and ballfields).  We are ready to bring more businesses here and to be more business-friendly.  We're ready to put a town center in across the road where you can put your streets where you want to put your streets.  We're ready to rally the volunteers.

The 11,000-plus people that live in all of Lansing -- the Village of Lansing, the Town of Lansing -- imagine if they all gave two hours a year.  Imagine the adults... I think there are 6,700 registered voters in all of Lansing, so there's probably more, say 7,000.  If 7,000 people gave two hours a year to do something what could you do with all that time and all those people?  You think big like that.

No, Lansing is not at a crossroads.  Lansing is ready to move forward and make itself stronger than ever because people respond to challenges in ways that amaze people.  Lansing does this.

LS: What do you see as the top three or four challenges over the next four years?

EL: One of those is to continue to build relationships with Lansing and with our different departments, and to give people focus.  Because lansing will be asked to do things in these next few years that will show it is remarkable.

Such as our financial structure.  Our school system is wonderful.  You talk to people about why they moved here.  I worked on the drug donation today, where they had the drug surrender.  I talked to one person who said she moved here because of the Lansding schools.  We want to preserve what is exceptional to Lansing.  Our school district is number one.  Our highway department is exceptional. 

The people that work in the Town are exceptional.  I've worked with them for the last three years, so I speak from experience.  All the accomplishments that I mentioned before were through them.  They work hard and they work efficiently.

These people are ready for new challenges and we're going to meet this thing head-on and succeed.

Having said that, the financial challenges are there and we will overcome them and we will succeed.  As far as keeping our schools, the AES situation is a wedge that drives people apart.  My goal in running for office is to bring that back together.  To help increase the financial base and minimize the impact that AES has on us.

LS:  So how do you view development and the town's role in shaping it?

EL:  Let's take an example.  Where I work at Tops, that was an empty field.  There was a Howard Johnson's there, and then it was an empty field. Look at what it is now.  Look at the businesses that are around it that are now there.  Look at the Applebee's, look at the restaurants, the bank, and the other things that are there now.

Let's project that over across the road from the Town Hall, and let's project that, maybe, ten-fold.  The amount of taxes -- even in your own article about BJ's could generate $40 million in revenue and estimate that $35,000 could go to the Village and over $70,000 would go to the Town in sales tax revenue.

Project that over what the sales tax would be for other entities across that street in the Town, regardless of what they are.

These things can be done, because I've worked at a place for eleven years where it is done.  I real with reality.  As a pharmacists I deal with things that are awful, and we make them better.  We find solutions to problems.  We eliminate our emotions and look at this objectively, and move forward with results.  That's what I'm about.  I'm about getting results.

LS: Then what kind of timetable would you see for a town center being created?

EL:  I've heard ten years before.  I've taked to engineers and they think five years for a sewer from seed to harvest if things go right.  If that's possible.  If not, there are ways to get businesses in there now.

LS: Should the sewer be a shovel-ready project looking for a funding option, or would you be more aggressive and say, 'now we have the plan and now we're going to find this funding sooner?

EL: One of the plans they do is like a doughnut.  You can build businesses around the edge and move the septic system on the inside where you make a green area.  Then when the sewer comes thorough you can then develop that area also.  That's very feasible.

LS: That's what they're doing with Lansing market right now, isn't it?

EL: Exactly.  When the sewer comes through that plot of land you have between Lansing Market and Andy Sciarabba's proposed office building gets filled in.  Or maybe it gets expanded, or something new comes in there, or a larger store, or something entirely different.

But the point is that when we get sewer it will change the whole dynamic.  But that is not the thing that determines whether a business goes in or not.  You have 150.4 acres over there.  There are ways that you can start now.  There are ways you can start to increase your tax base now.  you don't have to wait for later.  later is now.

LS: So you are saying that finally getting the State to finish the Town's purchase of the land is the big obstacle, not sewerand infrastructure and those other things?

EL: That's what's going to open up the gate.  In the meantime, as Andy Sciarabba has already shown with an industrial park presentation, we can start to work on roads and other stuff now.  We can start to clean up the area now.  There's no reason why you can't put the carnival over there now.  There's no reason why you can't put the Farmer's Market there now. 

These are all things you can do now.  You can get volunteers to start a feeder program over there for trees.  You don't wait for later, because later is now.

I'm the guy, who pushes.  I'm the guy who grinds.  I'm the guy who shoves.  This is what makes me different from all the rest. I don't stop.  I don't sleep.  I drive forward.  That's what I do all day long.  I grind.

When I was involved with the playground I worked 60 hours a week at my job.  I came in before work every day to touch base with every department (in the Town Hall).  There were very few days I wasn't there.

I involved these people every day.  That became part of my life.  Now I've decreased my hours to only 40 hours a week so I have plenty of time to drive other projects forward.

LS: On taxes and infrastructure, you can't deny that town taxes have been held at bay over the last four years.  But costs have soared, so how should the town pay for things like road maintenance  that have taken a hit because of that?

EL: If you look at the surplus we had this year, and it's projected we'll have a surplus next year... in many ways Lansing is very healthy as far as the Town goes.  When you look at taxes you can't differentiate -- it's like looking at a human and saying your lungs look good but your heart's bad.  You have to look at the whole body.  I tend to make analogies like that because medicine is my field.

So when you look at taxes you have to also look not just at town taxes, but also at county taxes, and you also have to look at school taxes.  And inf you live in the Village you have a fourth tax.  It's nice that we're lowering our taxes in the town, but you have to address the whole tax situation.  We can't pick and choose what taxes we pay.  We're responsible to pay all of our taxes.

This is where business comes in.  This is where, as a town representative, you drive forward the aspect of businesses coming into this area because that is going to minimize the impact of the other tax responsibilities, especially school taxes.

I've read school taxes account for 60% of what we pay.  That's probably a fair estimate.  AES is trying to get their assessment down again.  They went from $130 million and it was supposed to be $120 million, but they went down to $112.5 million and that resulted in a $320,000 increase in your school taxes.

LS: For homeowners.

EL: For homeowners.  Now if that happens again what are we going to do?

This is where a wedge is driven in the community, and this is why we need to attack this situation now and try to get as much of that tax burden as possible lifted and try to get other sources of revenue.

LS: What can or should the Town do to control oil and natural gas drilling or contain its consequences?

EL: The question is what can they do?  I mean, what you need to do is watch this thing and look at the pros and cons.  Once again, I'll use a medical analogy: you introduce a foreign substance into an entity to, hopefully, produce a positive, desired effect.  That may be fracking.

It could be called medication.  People take foreign substances every day to try to have a desired effect.  Anybody who takes a pill can identify with this.

The difference, though, is that we know what the result will be, what the risks are.  We don't really know what the risks of fracking will be yet and I'm not comfortable with going ahead and saying we should have fracking.  I'm very hesitant.

I'm gathering more information to see what the other consequences are, like the (impact on) the roads.  There's an old saying that the second mouse gets the cheese, not the first.  So you have to be really careful not to overreact and make Lansing vulnerable.  In the medical field the first thing with doctors is 'do no harm'.  I don't want to put Lansing in a harmful situation because we overreacted.  We have plenty of time now, because the southern tier will be first to be involved with fracking.  We can learn from them and see.

The other aspect is that the DEC has a tremendous amount of influence on this.  So there's a whole bunch of different variables that go into your decision about what you can and cannot do.

LS: Should the Town have agreements with the drilling companies for town land?

EL: As of right now I would hold off.  Landowners have the right to do what they want with their land.

LS: Right, but I am asking about town-owned land.

EL: I would wait.  At this time I would say no.

LS: How important is rural broadband now for Lansing, and how should the Town be involved in procuring it?  As you know the County Broadband Committee came out with their first report and one of the items in it is that they think there should be municipal involvement in getting it, and who much each municipality wants to pay will vary.

EL: I'd have to see what the options were.  Maybe there is grant money out there.  Maybe there is a way for people to do this cheaper.  maybe not everybody wants it.  I don't know.  As far as it goes that's something to pursue, but also to find out what you're trying to achieve.  We have to identify what the problems are.

I know people who live on Salmon Creek Road and they want Internet access down there.  I can understand that.

Where we live now we used to be on a telephone cable, and we just went to cable.  technology will make that easier and easier.  In the meantime we can go slowly to find out if it's cost effective, and be very careful because this is taxpayers' money.

LS: Town/Village relations seem to have deteriorated starting with the snow plowing incident.  One of the issues is the Mayor's assertion that Villagers are paying $700,000 in town taxes and only receiving $100,000 in services.  What, if anything, do you intend to do to make that relationship better?

EL: The relationship deteriorating is something I am aware of through the media.  I have not seen that it has, and there might be some personality conflicts.  I personally have gotten along with them.  I have a picture (of myself) standing between Scott (Town Supervisor Scott Pinney) and Don (Village Mayor Donald Hartill).  We have a cordial relationship.

When we see representatives from the Village to the Town we have a cordial relationship.  I have no problem with working with people and resolving differences.

if that's the case we need to look at all of the plusses and minuses and see whether it's equitable or not.  It it isn't it can be adjusted one way or the other.  And if it is, then we need to come to an understanding and move forward and put these things behind us.

As a unifier you look at both sides and see if this is possible or not, because in the long run I represent all of Lansing if I'm elected.  I represent Villagers, and they have a concern, and it's important because it's their concern.  I'm not going to be judgmental.  I will listen with an open mind and try to get input from other people to see where our differences may be minimized.  We may, in the long run, take a step back and say 'we really get along pretty well'.

It's like family.  Family doesn't always get along, but when they are threatened by an outside force they circle the wagons and you can't get through.

LS: What unique benefits will you bring to the Town Board?

EL: I'll bring the attitude that I am a public servant.  I serve.  Servants don't really ask what the task is.  Servants serve.

When I first got on the Lansing Community Council I asked, 'What is the most difficult job here?  I'll take it.'  They said treasurer.  And then when the president stepped down I stepped in and we found a treasurer.  When that treasurer left I did that job, too.  I do what is necessary to get the job done, because it is not about me.  It's about the benefit of everyone.

You do that in a loving, caring way where they are first and that's all that counts.  As long as you give more than you take, and try to make it better than you found it, things will work out.