ITHACA, N.Y. – Incumbent Mike Sigler is seeking re-election to Tompkins County Legislature.

Sigler is running on the Republican and Independence Party lines for District 6, which includes part of Lansing. Sigler has served two non-consecutive terms on Legislature, from 2006 to 2010 and from 2014 to present.

In addition to being on Legislature, Sigler works for Park Outdoor Advertising.

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Ithaca Voice Reporter Alyvia Covert spoke with Sigler about why he’s running and what his stance are on a few key local issues. 

What brought you to local government?

I saw that Lansing was changing when I first moved there. Development has been a huge issue, and now the issues are really clear for Lansing. We need a new natural gas pipeline up into Lansing, we’re at a disadvantage to every other town without this pipeline and frankly, that’s where we’ve invested the money – that’s where the airport is, Warren Road is a major road, and we’ve got major infrastructure. Frankly, with industries such as Borg Warner, you’re going to need natural gast to sustain that.

What are the biggest issues facing your constituency and Tompkins County?

Re-powering the power plant has always been a big issue for me. I don’t know why people look at power as such an exotic product, its a product just like anything else. People need it. If they think they can make money doing it, great.

I think the biggest issue facing the county as a whole is the jail. That is something we’re going to have to tackle. There are some tough choices for us.

Another big issue that’s really risen this year is the salt mine. I can’t even justify that. I don’t even really understand where they’re coming from. That’s 200 jobs, and 200 of my constituents that will be out of work. Where are they going to go? Not everybody can work at Cornell, which is what some people in that group has suggested.The DEC has done this safely for 100 years. 

Cargill has continued to be a source of contention for many in the community, from the tax abatement in the fall to now environmental concerns about mining under Cayuga Lake. What are your thoughts on Cargill generally? Do you think concerns about mining under the lake are well-founded?

I’m looking at 200 jobs, I’m looking at keeping the salt mine – we spend a lot less on salt because the mine is there. It’s about a million dollars if you look at all the municipalities combined. And then, if we get rid of it, we’re increasing our carbon footprint because we’re bringing it in from somewhere else. Why would we send our jobs out of the county when we already have all the resources here?

We already know this play of salt really well, we have a century under our belt, that’s why they aren’t going south. It gets thinner and there’s not enough salt there to mine.

It’s not that the research is not well-founded or false, it’s just not applicable. You have two different geologies –just the fact they’re within 60 miles of each other doesn’t mean they’re the same. There are peoples lives on the line – they’re down deep. If you look at the mine relative to the lake, there’s a lot of bedrock between the two.

What happened with Retsof was under land – it wasn’t that they were mining under water, they were mining under land and hit the water table which filled it up, and it was an uncontrolled kind of thing. This isnt what’s set in place to happen with this mine. They know if they’re going to hit the water table, they know if they’re going to hit it building the shaft, they have plans in place, they know the rate of flow – it’s not like they haven’t planned anything.

It’s not like the other salt mines can absorb 200 people – I don’t know what they would do, they would be out of work. We have third-generation miners down there. If we keep forcing businesses out, we’re basically saying to them: ‘thanks for the work, but we don’t value your job,’ and thats a tough pill to swallow. The mine is a big deal for us. My constituents all support the mine. It’s not a threat to the lake, I think most people didn’t even know a mine was there before this.

Tompkins County recently received the results from the Jail Study. What do you think the biggest takeaways from the report are? What steps do you think Tompkins County should take in the future regarding jail population and the Tompkins County Jail?

People are going up to the jail who are high, drunk, they have a subsstance abuse problem or they’ve got a mental illness problem. We have that issue, and jail probably isn’t the best place for them. When I talk about having a detox center up at the jail, I dont mean literally in the jail, I think a wing would be fine. I just want these people to be in a state whenre theyre not going to hurt themselves. Most of the people we’re picking up because they’ve done something wrong, not just because they’re high. We can’t ignore that too.

We need to get them detoxed so they can realize the charges they’re facing, but I do want to enter a rehab. There are certain things I agree with – should we really be having bonds posted for little misdemeanors? Probably not. I was talking to a judge and he was  saying 98% of people come back, people aren’t really jumping bail out there. Lets face the music now and take care of it. If you’re not going to hurt yourself or anybody else, I dont find it necessary. But it’s a process. We have to figure out the best way forwards.

I’m not a big fan of the jail expantion idea. The study said we didnt need it – okay great not we hae a bluepringt to work from. But it did show that we are in need of certain services that aren’t being provided, and we can’t really provide. Maybe we need to make more room at the jail? Should these services even be provided at the jail? These are questions that we’re going to need to answer.

What are your views on the LEAD program and what can the legislature do to address the opioid crisis?

If it’s a substance abuse issue, and people do want to address it, maybe we shouldn’t have it at the jail, because then we’re paying for it. The fact of the matter is, it may be as simple as getting a job that will change things for some of these people. The problems is we’re releasing people from jail and sending people back without anything; without a job, without any money. We’re releasing them back into the same situation they were in and expecting a different result.

We need to be able to release peope into a situation where they can get back on their feet. Becasue we dont want to see them back in jail, it’s expensive. I look at the country as a whole, and we jail a lot of people. There are certainly people out there who are hurting society and should be put away. But there are also tons of people who may get caught up in something and just may need help getting back on track.

What do you think the biggest gaps in housing are in Tompkins County? Who is getting left behind? And how can Tompkins County Legislature make progress in the area of housing?

The only places we can really make progress is in funding and site preps. Our role is how to guide towns into what they want to do.

This is a very simple thing to me. It’s a matter of supply and demand. If we build more high-end housing, the high-end housing will become middle-end housing and the middle-end housing will become low-end housing. We just need more.

There’s a lot to be said to build more houses in a city that doesn’t rely on cars. I own four units in the city and one is rented out to an agency, and one is just a market rate. The money that I’m profiting just goes back into the house. We’re looking at density downtown too.

Are you in favor of having a living wage in Tompkins County?

I think it’s unwise, but I think they can do it if they get enough people.

We have a bunch of departments that rely on state aid and that’s not going up. State aid will not rise to a living wage. Where is that money going to come from? These are the services we need. The people we’re trying to help we’re going to end up hurting.

People dont look at all the little things that will be affected like this. The services that are critical to this county will not be able to keep up with a living wage.

If you want every company in Amerca to be a big company, this would be the way to do it. Your Mom & Pops, businesses with two employees, someone who just started a company, they know what their finances are better than I do. If you want more Wal-Marts, this is how you get more Wal-Marts – because they can absorb the costs.

Your local pizza parlor, hes not going to be able to absorb the same costs. So it might turn into a Papa Johns or a Dominos. We have a lot of restaurants in town, it will hurt them, but I’m really woried about the agencies and the not-for-profits. They can’t raise prices, there are no prices to raise, where is the money going to come from? It will hurt them.

Alyvia Covert

Alyvia is a Crime Reporter with The Ithaca Voice. She graduated from Ithaca College with a degree in Journalism and Photography.