By Rob Montana
With at least 20 people announcing their plans to run for Tompkins County Legislature in the fall, Tompkins Weekly will be offering readers an opportunity to learn more about the people who will be appearing on ballots in September and November.
Mike Lane has represented District 14, which covers part of the Town of Dryden, for the last two terms, serving as chairperson since 2014. He was first elected to the Legislature in 1993, serving three consecutive, four-year terms, during which he was vice chairperson. After a one-term hiatus, he was elected to the Legislature again and has served on the body since then.
To learn more about Lane, we asked him about issues he sees facing Tompkins County, as well as the role of a legislator.
Tompkins Weekly: What are the top three issues facing Tompkins County?
Mike Lane: Employment and Economic Development: Tompkins County needs to provide more good-paying jobs and to train our workforce for specialized jobs for new and growing industries. We have to be open for responsible business development. Impediments to building and expansion of modern businesses have to be minimized or the kinds of businesses we would like to have simply will not locate here. With so many tax exempt properties in our county, we strongly need the expanded tax base they can provide.
Transportation: We really have not seen much of an upgrade of our transportation system – highways, bridges, airport, etc. – since the mid- to late-20th century. Our TCAT bus system struggles with insufficient federal and state funding. If we want a 21st-century economy, people, goods, and services have to move in and out of our county efficiently. Remaining centrally isolated is not an option.
Housing and Energy: We need more housing, especially single-family homes in all price ranges, and senior and other affordable housing. We can fight global warming by reducing the heavy reliance on carbon fuels for transportation. One example would be the installing of electric charging stations and other electric infrastructure to encourage people and businesses to migrate to electric motor vehicles.
TW: What skills do you possess that would be an asset as a Tompkins County legislator?
ML: I believe that I have solid experience in local government that I daily bring to bear on solving problems in Tompkins County. As Dryden village mayor, I worked on issues of flood control and sewer improvements. In my years on the county Legislature I have chaired or served on committees overseeing and examining most aspects of county services. As chairperson of the Legislature, I have worked hard to develop a bipartisan team of all 14 legislators to address our issues civilly, openly, and effectively for the people not only of my Dryden and Freeville area legislative district, but throughout the county.
TW: What is something that would surprise people to know about you?
ML: I have a law practice in the Village of Dryden that employs two people. I am a trustee and officer of The Southworth Library Association. I am keenly interested in learning about the wonderful history of our county, and its diversity of people and communities.
TW: How do you balance the desires of your constituents and your own personal beliefs when making decisions as a member of the Legislature?
ML: This is the classic question with which every elected official must struggle. As their legislator, I owe the people of my district, and of the whole county, my strong and serious attention. I owe my constituents my patience and the willingness to listen to competing opinions. I owe them my best efforts to research and delve into issues in order to be able to cast an intelligent and knowledgeable vote. While never surrendering deeply held principles, I must be willing to change my position and seek reasonable compromise because I know that those who do not agree are sincere in their beliefs and have the absolute right to advocate and disagree. In the end, my vote must be in the best interest of the people as I see it. I have never hesitated to cast a vote for what I believed was right, whether I agreed with the majority of speakers or not. I believe that is the essence of representation.
TW: Why should people vote for you?
ML: I would ask people for their vote because I believe I have always worked in their best interest and will continue to do so. The total real property tax burden here – schools, city, towns, villages, and county – is heavy. As a county Legislator, I have always advocated for reasonable tax levies, but I have also advocated for maintaining the important level of services that we need. New issues arise every day. It may be the current opioid drug crisis, or it may be jail overcrowding or declining enrollment at TC3. While the issues change, the need for strong leadership to address them continues. I would like to continue to lead for the benefit of the people of Freeville and Dryden, and for all of Tompkins County.
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