COLUMN: Making a case for good, strong leadership in FLX

Smart planning. Sensible budgeting. Strong decisive leadership.

Those are the keys to successfully running any organization. It doesn’t matter how big or small the organization, these principles are the ones that drive success. Most-importantly, though, these principles must be present together in order to create long-term success.

On Dec. 19 voters in the Seneca Falls Central School District will vote on a $13.9 million capital project, one that will have an effect on long-term health and sustainability of the district. The local share of the expense associated with the proposal is covered by a Capital Building Reserve. A number of years ago, as district officials saw the proverbial writing on the wall, they began storing away funds to ensure that future expenses — such as this one — could be covered.

It’s a testament to smart planning, budgeting and decisive leadership.

The district’s problems weren’t going anywhere. They weren’t going to be wished away, pushing them down the road — ignoring them in the short-term — would only create bigger, more expensive problems for the district, and no external entity was going to swing in to save the day.

So district leaders planned, saved, budgeted and did what leaders are supposed to do: They led.

The result: A major capital project that will have no additional tax implications for the voters.

Among the things being delivered to taxpayers in the proposed capital project are necessary updates to infrastructure, like an ailing HVAC unit at the elementary school, as well as a bus garage and learning experience fit for this century.

The Seneca Falls Central School District has managed to check off all three aforementioned organizational boxes, and the results show it. To accomplish these things, doing so at no additional cost to taxpayers is a leading example of good governance and a case study for other governing bodies looking at similar issues.

Compare that process and result with the Town of Seneca Falls.

It’s a striking contrast when one governing entity is able to deliver a multi-million dollar project at no additional cost to taxpayers while another pushes out one of the largest tax hikes in local history.

The town desperately needs to see important pieces of infrastructure — like water, sewer, and roadways — maintained adequately. History reminds us that planning, budgeting, and leadership have missed the mark here. Reserves were irresponsibly managed, projects were mishandled from inception to ribbon cutting, and now the budget process has evolved into a yearly exercise of seeking out temporary solutions.

Last week, Seneca Falls residents were blindsided by a tax hike that seemed unfathomable. There weren’t any answers, there wasn’t any vision — just a resignation to a massive tax hike that some residents simply will not be able to afford.

It could hurt the long-term viability and health of Seneca Falls.

That’s why long-term planning, sensible budgeting and decisive leadership are so important. People want to trust the process. They want to trust their elected officials. And they want to see planning that drives the community forward in a way that won’t empty their checkbooks.

The Dec. 19 vote for the capital project in the SF school district isn’t just a vote to make the educational experience better for students, faculty, and taxpayers. It’s an opportunity for voters to express confidence in smart planning and strong leadership.

“No additional cost to taxpayers” are words we should expect to hear more often. It should be the standard to which our elected officials and local leaders are held. People are expected to live within a plan and budget, so the same should be expected of our communities.

This column originally appeared in the Finger Lakes Times on November 21st.

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