andrab_120Andra Benson is one of the two Republican candidates for Town Board in next month's election.  She has lived in Lansing for 42 years, and owns Bensvue Farms, which is a member/owner of the Organic Valley cooperative with her husband, Chuck.  They have eight children 25 grandchildren.

She served on the Lansing Board Of Education for ten years, and currently serves on the Lansing Community Library Board Of Directors, where she has served for over four years.  She volunteers as a bookkeeper at the library as well.  She is a founding member of the Lansing Youth Services Commission, and is the Director of Religious Education at All Saints Church.  She also serves there as teen minister.  For years she has been the announcer at Lansing Boys Varsity Swim Team home meets.  She also volunteers for Organic Valley projects.

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Lansing Star: Why are you running for Town Board, and what makes you the best choice?

Andra Benson: I'm running for Town Board because I am very, very invested in this town.  I have very deep roots with my family and my sons and my grandchildren.  I've seen it change a lot since I moved here 42 years ago.  I know it is going to continue to change, and I would like to be part of the decision making to make sure that Lansing stays well and prosperous.  It's a beautiful place.

I don't want to see the environment ruined.  I do want to see more businesses, but I want it planned well so that for my grandchildren and great-grandchildren or whoever, it still stays a beautiful town.

Why am I the best?

LS: Yes.

AB: That one is a little bit hard, but I have a lot of experience in the Town.  I may not have done things politically, but I've done a lot for the Town.  I really like the people here and I like to serve the people here.  One of my big attributes besides being a pretty hard worker is that I listen well.  I think that's something necessary for a Town Council member.  I want people to tell me their vision of what they would like Lansing to be.  I think I'm really, really good at that part.

LS: Do you think lansing is at a crossroads in its history right now?

AB: Yes, I do.  I do.  I think there are so many changes.  Because we have a good school system, and I know that first hand, and because we have a lot of natural beauty, and we're very close to very big employers, Cornell and Ithaca College, many people want to live here.

That's one reason and another reason we're at a crossroads is we will need more businesses out here.  AES Cayuga may not be with us forever and we have to be very, very careful about hydrofracking, which is coming.

LS: That answered my next question about the top two or three issues you would face as a town councilperson.

AB: Probably the other big one is sewer and water for the development either of a town center or other planned communities and housing.  I think that we have to do that.

LS: How do you view development and the Town's role in shaping it?  Also, what is your vision for a town center and what kind of timetable would you like to see for that?

AB: I guess my vision is that it be centered.  That we don't have such free zoning that you end up with development in all different sections.  I think that's something that lansing lacks, a definite town center.

Having the town hall and the library right here, I think developing businesses on this corridor of 34 and 34B is probably the most advantageous for everybody.  I think we have to be careful that we do it well, that it is not an eyesore.

LS: And what kind of timetable would you like to see?

AB: I think the planning part, and -- if it's necessary -- the rezoning part should be done quickly so that people who may want to come in and invest -- like a nice hotel or motel, for example -- they know what's expected of them.  They know it isn't just that they put up an ugly structure and have enough land for septic.  That has to all be set before it gets developed.  Not after, but before.

That part should be within the very near future of one to two years at the most.  Then after that things don't have to go crazy.  It could be at a good pace where you see things developing and people using the land wisely.

LS: I'm trying to ask the same questions of each candidate, but news has been happening because I've been doing it over the course of about a month.  One of the things that has come up is should the Town be a developer and put in roadways and infrastructure to attract businesses to come here, or should the town just have the plan and have businesses put in that stuff as they develop?

AB: Since all of us are very concerned about taxes I would have a problem with the Town being the developer.

LS: Even if it could recover its investment later?

AB: If it could realistically recover it, then it makes some sense.

The school tax, of course, is our biggest tax.  The town tax is not our bigger tax.  But you would hate to see it get that way.  You would like to think you know, more or less, that the town tax is going to stay pretty stable.  Because you know the other taxes, the County and the School are not.  So I think a lot of planning has to be done with a lot of forethought.

If I don't have the expertise and other board members don't then we get people to educate us.  I expect a very big learning curve.

LS: The next question is the same for the sewer.

AB: That one, I think, has to come very soon.

LS: When would you like to see the shovel go in the ground for that?

AB: I'd like to see it within a year, if possible.  I know there is some money available and I think we should be independent.  Not only is it a hassel, but if you have an independent sewer plant you have more control.

LS: You mean a hassel to go through the Village to the Cayuga Heights plant like the old sewer plan had it?

AB: Yes. I think that's one of the reasons why it didn't end up happening.

I'd like to see something started within a year.  I think that would be wonderful if that was in place, but that may be very unrealistic.  I know a lot of groundwork has been done already.

LS: Do you think it should just be a shovel ready plan waiting for funding to come along, or should the Town be more aggressive in finding funding?

AB: The Town should be aggressive.

LS: Taxes and infrastructure.  Should the Town be allotting more money to its infrastructure?

AB: I am not an expert on this at all, and I am sure that both Mr. Pinney (Lansing Supervisor Scott Pinney) and Mr. French (Highway Superintendent Jack French) know a ton more on this than I do.  I think we have to be careful, because if something like hydrofracking does come and we have these incredible amounts of heavy machinery and trucks on our roads we're going to have to find money from someplace else.  I don't think the townspeople can afford to maintain or repair that.

I think infrastructure is important.  I don't think you can live in a rural area that doesn't have good roads, because we have to get in our car and go someplace.  All of us do.  We can't walk... most of us can't walk to work, or to where we do our shopping or anything like that.  So it's a very important thing.

But I do not want to say that I know that much about it.  I don't.  I'd have to learn.

LS: You mentioned fracking, and one of the consequences of that could be faster deterioration of the roads.  What do you think the Town should be doing to control drilling and the possible consequences of it?

AB:  If I could have my wish the Town would ban drilling.  If Barbara Lifton's bill about home rule being more important than state rule  goes through, then most of the towns in Tompkins County would want home rule would say we don't want this.

I think that the gas is there.  We may need to get it some day.  They way they're getting it is pretty scary because of the consequences of all the water that they are going to contaminate.

Also I've gone to some talks and done enough homework to know that methane is released from the fracking that's going to destroy ground water and wells.  I think that's too much of a cost.

LS: Your answer to this is probably obvious, but do you think the Town should have agreements with the drilling companies for lands that the Town owns?

AB: I would like to see no hydrofracking, but if the State says we have to, because right now the State controls most of the permits, etc. for the drilling companies, I think the Town has to be very, very careful.  It should probably not lease the land, but find out if that's a possibility without them saying 'oh, you have to because the line and the drilling is right here and your land is right next to it, so we have to use it, and we can.'  If that's the scenario, the Town has to have pretty strict limitations on that.

LS: How important is rural broadband?  How do you think the Town should be involved in getting it?

AB: I think it's very important.  In this day and age everyone should have access to this.   It puts you behind the eight ball, especially children who are being educated today.  This is important for them to have access to the Internet right in their own homes if possible.

The library does serve somewhat because people can come and use the computers for free.  But I think that since fuel costs only go up and people have to pay more and more for gasoline it is a huge advantage to have it in your home and not have to drive anyplace to get it.

I don't know much about whether there are grants out there for this, but if there are I think the Town should definitely look into it.  If there aren't I think it would be nice to know what the people of Lansing think and whether they want to pay a little more in taxes so that everybody could have it and not just those who are lucky enough to have cable.

LS: I am lucky enough to have cable, but I've given this a lot of thought.  I see all kinds of scenarios that could bring it to everyone.  One is that the Town would invest in infrastructure as it does in roads.

AB: But you would have to have more tax revenue to do that.  That would be a priority.  Just like your roads are a priority.  I agree.

LS: Another way is that the Town could create Internet districts that would operate similarly to sewer or water districts, where only the people in the district pay for it.  Grants, certainly...

AB: That's why I say it would be very nice to know what the people in the Town want.  That would be key because if there were a section that doesn't want it...

LS:  It seems to me the Town/Village relationship has deteriorated since the snow plowing incident.  Now the Mayor says villagers are paying $700,000 in town taxes and are only getting $100,000 in services.  So you think improving relations should be a town priority, and if you do what would you do as a councilperson to make them better?

AB: I definitely think there should be good relations.  It's a ridiculous situation that you have a village, which is really a zoning village, is inside your town and you don't have good relations.

And I think the reason it was formed at the beginning is that there wasn't good communication and relations with people who were upset with the Town.  So I think there has to be a concerted effort to communicate better.  If that means that certain people on the Town Board are designated to keep everything attuned and meet with certain people on the Village board, then that's what we should do.

LS: That's a point.  The Village sends John O'Neill, a trustee to the Town Board meetings, and then he goes back and reports to the Village on what happened.

AB: But is someone from our town board over there?

LS: I've rarely seen someone from the Town Board go there.  Bud Shattuck used to go occasionally.  I've seen Kathy Miller a few times.

AB: There should be good relations and not sour relations and we should do whatever we can to make that happen.  It seems like a no-brainer.

LS: What unique benefits will you bring to the board if you are elected?

AB: I don't know how unique I am.  I don't consider myself unique.  I really love this town and I don't want it to go in directions that I think are harmful.  I want it to be a really wonderful place to live and to raise your kids.  And it would be nice if the kids, after they get educated, would decide that they should come back and live here.  It's sad when so many say there's nothing here.

And sometimes years later they come back and they say 'now I'm married with kids and I want to raise my kids here'.  It would be nice if that could happen with a better flow so that people feel this is a wonderful place to live.

And I think we have to have a good business center at the center of the town.  We have to have good roads.  it can't be a place where you come back and say everything fell apart.  We're so blessed with this lake and our park.  Our park is just wonderful.  So we have these things and we should make sure they stay in good condition.

But also we need good programs.   Our Parks and Recreation Department is very good.  I would hate to see massive cuts to that. 

People are very happy with what's offered in Lansing.  When my kids were growing up they had to go to Ithaca to play soccer.  And what a delight to see so many kids playing soccer right here and we don't have to drive all the way to Cass Park.  When my kids were growing up they asked for a soccer team, which the school never had.

LS: And now it's a top ranked team.

AB: Now it's one of the top sports, that's right.  I was on the school board when the kids came and asked for it.  And they came and asked for a boy's swimming team.

I think on the town board we have to be aware of what the people in the town want, and if possible help it come about, and keep it a place where people really want to live and not move away.

A big part of the town is still agriculture, and I would like to see it stay that way.  We do have an agricultural district.  I know there's a new plan about what's acceptable in the agricultural district and I really have to read up about it.

I would hate to think that the Town was not receptive to agriculture, which it was based on.  And we have good land, and we have good resources, and we have water, thank God.  Farms can prosper here.

The people who worked to get a farmers market going, I give them kudos, because that's a wonderful start to having people see that things are grown locally.  I've been speaking at the school and science classes about community gardens, and now there are two churches in town with community gardens.

I am also going to speak at TC3 about sustainability and organic farming, since we own an organic dairy farm.  So I want that to stay.  I would hate to, in thirty years either look down from heaven or up from hell and see that that has all been destroyed.  Once you pave that's it.  It doesn't come back.

So I think that we have to be very aware of that, and I think having a rural blend is wonderful.