At its June 17 meeting, the Lansing Town Council presented a resolution to set a public hearing to override the tax levy limit, which raised some concern from Councilman Joe Wetmore.
“Given the current climate, in which unemployment is extremely high, and I know our community is struggling make ends meet in many ways, do we really want to be moving towards a position where we can raise taxes, or are we looking at this society as it is right now and saying, ‘This is not a good time to raise taxes,’” Wetmore said.
Councilwoman Andra Benson said she is in favor of the resolution just so the council can pas it “just in case,” and Town Supervisor Ed LaVigne said a resolution like this one allows for “flexibility” come budget season.
“In the past, what we’ve done historically is to allow us the flexibility during budget season as to what the options are,” LaVigne said. “In one year, we went over the tax cap due to drainage districts, which had nothing to do with anybody else but these separate districts pushed us over. Other times, we’ve been underneath the tax cap – hopefully we will be there again this year. So we’ll have another resolution to rescind the first resolution so we can be under the tax cap. So it merely gives us flexibility to consider raising taxes, which, as I’ve already stated, is the last resort, if that really is an option or not.”
Councilman Doug Dake also said he is in favor of the resolution.
“We’ve done this every year that I’ve been on the board,” Dake said. “Obviously, this is a different year, but I agree the flexibility that it’s allowing us is probably needed. I don’t want to raise taxes at all. I want them to go down, actually.”
Town Attorney Guy Krogh also chimed in, outlining how overriding the tax levy limit would also impact the performances of bonds.
“Bond rating companies and fiscal advisors, if you have outstanding bonds upon which you pledged the full faith in credit of the town, it’s universally recommended that you do this not because you’ll raise taxes, but because you must perform on the bond because a default would hurt your bond rating and you’d be paying extra money for 20 years, and not doing this and not having that flexibility might be viewed as a negative thing by the bond rating agency,” Krogh said.
The resolution ultimately passed unanimously, though Wetmore made one last comment prior to the vote.
“I will vote for this, but I want it on the record that I’m really not interested in raising taxes this year,” Wetmore said. “This is one year in which I think if anything we’ll cut back in order to avoid raising taxes because it’s such an exceptional year.”
Councilwoman Bronwyn Losey, who is in her first term on the council, also offered some thoughts prior to the vote.
“I think it’s important to keep in mind the issues that folks are facing in Lansing and do our best to not raise taxes, but at the same time have this option, especially because like Guy was mentioning about the bond rating,” Losey said. “And that’s all I can say about it as I’ve not gone through a budget season yet.”
Later in the meeting, the council discussed plans for establishing a council/focus group of residents to address the issue of police brutality towards people of color in the community as well as systemic racism in local police departments.
“Governor Cuomo has directed that communities have nine months to pass laws enacting redesigning of their police force to make it clearly reflect the community needs, including the black and brown members of our community,” Wetmore said. “I would like to see the Lansing Town Board create a council of residents and community leaders that will work to achieve this.”
Wetmore also said he would like to see Tompkins County Sheriff Derek Osborne, who is also a Lansing resident, be included in the council to discuss improving policing policies and ending systemic racism in departments. A march against police brutality was held in Lansing on June 12, and now that people are engaging in the conversation of how to end the brutality, Wetmore said the next step is to form a collection of people to find the necessary solutions.
“I think the next step is for us to get engaged with this discussion that Governor Cuomo has asked our communities to do,” he said. “I’d like to get it engaged as a community, starting with the Town Board, and building more community members into it and have a formal part that we take part of this discussion, because it’s going to be happening over the course of nine months and I think it’s important that we be part of it formally.”
Benson said she would like to be on the council when it is created.
“I would very much like to be a part of this since I think I’m the only one on the board who as grandchildren, many grandchildren, of color,” she said. “And I literally pray for them every single day, especially those who are males. So I have a big stake in this; my whole family does. … I’m sure the sheriff, Mr. Osborne, would be very glad to hear that we are concerned, because if something happens in Lansing the sheriff comes.”