Donald Hartill

Donald Hartill is running for his 11th term as Mayor of the Village of Lansing.  He is a Professor Emeritus of physics at Cornell University, still working at least half time on a research program, substitute teaching, and is an emeritus member of the Scientific Policy Committee for the CERN Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland.  He and his wife Marion have lived in the Village of Lansing since 1968.  He has been Mayor for 20 years, ten terms.  Prior to becoming Mayor he served as a trustee for eight years. 

Lansing StarLansing Star: After ten terms, why are you running for an eleventh term, and why isn't it time for a new point of view in the Mayor's chair?

Donald Hartill Donald Hartill: There have been a number of things that have been carried out in the last six years.  One of which was getting Northwoods Road (dedicated to the Village so rod improvements and maintenance could be undergone).  Now we have it as a village road.

Another thing was acquiring the 20 acres, the Dart property.  That is going to be a very nice natural area and park, basically the mirror image of Dankert Park on the south side of Route 13.

The other thing is Graham Road West.  We're very close to that, so it becomes a village road so we can fix the potholes that people always complain about.

Lansing StarThat's the little road into the mall, right?

Donald HartillExactly.  So that is the other piece of the puzzle in terms of the road infrastructure.  We're doing pretty well in getting all of our infrastructure in place with the exception of sewers.  We have some repairs that need to be done in the sewer system on the south side of Route 13.  We also want to do some expansions of the sewer districts.  Lansing Village does not have districts, but we do have a sewered area and an unsewered area.  The unsewered area is getting to the point where that needs to be attended to.

One of the reasons that the unsewered area has been the way it is is that the lot size (must be) about two acres.  The sewered area is half of that, 30,000 square feet.  The plan is to have an intermediate lot size of 45,000 square feet, which is just a little over an acre.  That preserves the low density part of the unsewered area and enables putting a sewer there.

Those are the things that I want to run for another term to make sure that we're on an even path.

One of the trustees has taken over managing the construction of the playground part of the park, and I will be interacting with that to make sure we have a proper path there.

Last February New York State Supreme Court (and 6th Judicial District at Tomkins County)  Justice Eugene D. Faughnan dismissed a case brought by Heights of Lansing Dev., LLC (Janet Jonson, Lisa Bonniwell) against the Village of Lansing (Hartill and Trustees Hardaway, Monaghan, O'Rourke, and O'Neil), ruling that re-zoning of the property on Bomax Road was not unlawful and that it does not represent impermissible 'spot zoning'. The plaintiffs have appealed this decision.
Lansing StarThe hot issue right now is the Bomax Road rezoning from Commercial / Technology to Residential.  I have heard there was at least one court challenge, and maybe an appeal?

Donald HartillThey have appealed to the New York State Supreme Court.  The minimum time for any result from that is six to eight months.  My point of view is that it is merely a delaying tactic.  I have no concerns about having the decision by the local court reversed, but it's purely a delaying tactic.  Unfortunately.

Lansing StarIf it were to come up for a second vote, basically to repeal the first vote, how would you vote, and why?

Donald HartillExactly the same way.  The reason is we have a rather large inventory of business and technology zoned.  The last new building that was built near that zone was the expansion of the dairy lab.  That construction actually was in a high density residential zone.

I don't see a large demand for those properties.

Lansing StarYou mean a large commercial demand?

Donald HartillExactly.  Because most of the things that are now being done in business and technology don't involve large buildings to make whatever they make.  It involves software, typically, or consulting of one form or another, or even health care at some level.

So there is no demand for that.  Cornell is very interested in converting things to more useful things.  that's the reason.

And it actually has a needed housing component for the Village.

Lansing StarYou kind of answered this in the first question, but what key challenges do you see the Village facing in the next two years?

Donald HartillWe won't be able to complete the sewer project in the next two years, but we will have the engineering design and the beginning of construction.  It will be compatible with the needs of the Town of Lansing.

Lansing StarWhat would you like to make happen that the current board has not worked on?

Donald HartillThe sewer business.  That's the main thing.

Lansing StarThe Greenway Committee has been a major component of what the village government has wanted to do.  Once this new park near Northwoods is complete will there be enough public parks in the Village?  And will Poison Ivy Point ever be a park?

Donald HartillI think our inventory of parks is quite good for a village of our size.  It provides the spectrum of opportunities that both young and old enjoy.  We do have a "park" on the lakefront, just south of the pump station for Bolton Point.  the access to it involves crossing the railroad rack.  I am hoping in this next term to have a negotiation that would actually make (crossing the track at that location) legal.

Right now it's legal if I had cows to cross the railroad track.  (laughs)

Lansing StarSo the Village is not thinking of buying a cow for people to borrow when going to Poison Ivy Point?

Donald HartillNo.  That's the rule.

Lansing StarJust one more quick question about that: do you envision cleaning up Poison Ivy Point as the Town did at Salt Point, once the issue of access is resolved?

Donald HartillI think that once we get the Dart parcel in its proper state that that would be next on the list.  Dankert Park is in good shape.  There's a village park across the street from Dankert Park.  Currently we have the new playground equipment for that park, so that will be done this spring.  Then the next thing would be do something down ther (Poison Ivy Point).  We actually do have access via Bolton Point -- they have (legal) access across the railroad tracks, so we could bring the necessary equipment down to take care of it.

Lansing StarAt this point with most Village business-zoned areas built out, what should the be Village doing, going forward, to support business here?

Donald HartillBasically, try to insure the businesses survive.  With online purchasing and whatnot fixed stores are struggling all over the country.  We're not alone in that respect.  I buy whatever I can at the fixed stores, just to support them.

That, I think, is the biggest challenge.

Lansing StarIs there something the village can do as a government or is it just a matter of moral support?

Donald HartillWe've tried to be very helpful with any new modifications to the buildings and things like that.  Our Code Enforcement and Zoning officers have worked very hard to make that easy.  That's the way we support business.
Lansing StarSome Villagers are in the Lansing school district and most are in the Ithaca district.  As a village withouit a village, so to speak, no real homey center...

Donald HartillWe sort of do have a homey center.  The malls are part of that center.  The senior housing (north of BJ's that was part of the village requirement when it approved the BJ's construction project) that I am hopeful will be constructed starting this year is part of that center.  I know there is an attempt to add some other things that would be center-like.

Lansing StarThe Triphammer reconstruction project went a certain distance toward making it seem more village-like, but I think most people coming into that area and not knowing about it or thinking about it don't view the Village as a village.  That leads me to school districts being the center of community for so many people, yet the Village is split between the Ithaca and Lansing districts.

Donald HartillIt's actually mostly Ithaca.  There's only a small piece that's in the Lanasing school district.

Lansing StarWould you prefer it to be one school district, and if so would you work to make it become that?

Donald HartillThe number of (Village) students that actually go to the Lansing schools is very small, because most of that area (in the Lansing School District) is basically senior housing.  I'd be happy to support it if there is a desire to do that, but I haven't heard of any real desire to do that.  Certainly if there were a desire to do that I would work very hard to make it happen.

Lansing StarOver the years Village officials, yourself included, say the Village will never merge with the Town, that the interests and the culture of the Village and the Town are too different, and there is no cost benefit in doing so. Town officials have consistently told me that merging would be beneficial -- that villagers' tax on top of the Town tax would go away, that the shared services would reduced costs, and that it's something that Governor Cuomo has been pushing very hard for.  Are yiou still in the shouldn't merge camp?

Donald HartillThere has to be a strong advantage for the Village to do that.  Right now the villagers pay over $700,000 in town taxes, which is more than they pay for village taxes by quite a bit.  The level of services that we receive, speaking for the villagers now, from the Town is certainly not $700,000 worth.

Lansing StarBut presumably they would receive that back in services if it were one municipality, wouldn't they?

Donald HartillWell, we did that at some level.  To be perfectly blunt, we had a snow plowing contract with the Town.  it was at the level of $30,000 per year.  Two Supervisors ago the Town Supervisor decided that they had to have full cost recovery, ignoring the fact that we were already paying a large sum of money.  So that was not a very pleasant experience.

The price went up to 70 or 75 thousand dollars.  We ended up buying a used ten-wheeler and added another person to our staff, and we now plow our own roads.

There's another difficulty...

Lansing StarLet me ask you this because some of your opposition have brought this up.  In bottom line terms, has plowing the Village turned out to cost less, or at least the same as it would have cost if the Town did it?

Donald HartillLess.  Our total snow plowing costs are around $55,000.

The other problem is that we have a fairly elaborate storm sewer system on Triphammer Road.  The town, to avoid salt costs, uses a mixture of salt and sand.  That means that we have a very significant cleaning cost every year to get rid of the sand that went into the storm sewers.

Lansing StarWhy not just contract for salt-only?  The County does that.

Donald HartillWe could.  But I think if you ask people that actually pay attention... for example, Cayuga Heights Road has been plowed when I want to leave at 7:30.  When the Town was doing it, it was usually after 9 when the plow went by.  I have a four wheel drive, so that was OK...

The other thing is the crosswalks we installed on Triphammer Road are plastic.  We use a rubber blade that doesn't damage them.  The steel blades that the Town uses would tear those up.  The Town does make a run early in the morning, but they stop at Oakcrest Road to avoid hitting any of our crosswalks.

Lansing StarYour saying at the moment, at least, there is no advantage to merging?

Donald HartillThere's no advantage.

Lansing StarAnd there would have to be a clear advantage?

Donald HartillThere has to be a clear advantage and the only merging that would save any significant amount of money could be the snow plowing.  But that's it.  Road maintenance and whatnot -- you have to pay for that.  If we were to join the Town those costs are still there.  I think our roads are probably better maintained than many of the Town roads that I drive on.  You get what you pay for.

Lansing StarThere are two village tax issues that i know of this year, and that was one of them.  The value of services for taxes villagers pay the Town.  The other one is the 18% rise, a 20 cent per thousand dollars of assessed property value rise in village taxes.  When people hear that they're going to say first of all that the Village tax is an overlay on the Town tax.  And then they're going to say that's a big percentage, even though in dollars it's not really huge.  So how do you address that, especially in an election year?

Donald HartillJust like I've addressed it with you.  You get what you pay for.  I think the record of the administrations of the Village has been very good in terms of delivery of services per dollar.  There is absolutely no question about that.

Lansing StarLooking at the chart (of historical tax rates since the Village was formed that Town Clerk Jodi Dake shared with the Lansing Star) I do see that the proposed new rate is $2.55 less than the highest rate, which was a long time ago.

Donald HartillThat was at the origin of the Village and there were a lot of expenses that had to be covered getting the staff in place and getting the necessary machinery in place and things like that.

Lansing StarEven ten years ago it was $1.40, so it was more than what it is going up to this year.

Donald HartillRight.  The equilibrium rate going down the stream, to continue the level of services that we provide, is going to be about $1.40 or $1.50 -- somewhere in that region.  It will get up to that point over time.

We had high reserves and no immediate projects -- that (the tax rate went down to $0.99) was before all the projects that I mentioned.  As an example, repaving Triphammer Road was a $750,000 hit last year.  That was just resurfacing it, peeling off the top inch and replacing it.  There were also some other projects.  it wasn't just Triphammer Road.

Lansing StarWhat would you like people to know about your candidacy that we haven't already discussed?

Donald HartillI want to keep an even keel.  I want to make sure that the level of services continues at their current level, and make Lansing a better place to live.