October 17, 2003

C.U. Pledges City Support

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President Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77 kicked off yesterday’s festivities by proposing a significant increase in the University’s voluntary monetary contributions to the City of Ithaca.

In an early-morning press conference with community leaders at the Tompkins County Public Library, Lehman articulated his philosophy that a strong surrounding community is a factor in the relative strength of a university.

“A strong university and a strong community go hand-in-hand,” he said. “A community with outstanding services, outstanding schools and outstanding recreational and cultural opportunities makes Cornell attractive to outstanding students, faculty and staff members.”

According to Lehman, he plans on asking the Board of Trustees to increase the amount of money that the University contributes to the city and to extend the length of the current monetary commitment to 2023. The current memorandum of understanding, reached with Ithaca in 1995, ends in 2007. While Lehman’s proposal may be approved by the Board when they meet to deliberate today and tomorrow, the revised memorandum of a “town-gown” understanding will still be subject to approval by the City of Ithaca’s Common Council, which meets on Tuesday, before taking effect.

If passed by the Board and Common Council, the plan would increase the University’s 2004 commitment to the city from $750,000 to $1 million and would increase the amount pledged in the final three years of the current contribution schedule by a total of $625,000. In addition, Lehman proposed another net contribution of $425,000 over the next three years to aid Ithaca’s efforts toward economic development. Together, Lehman’s proposal totals a $4.7 million commitment to the City of Ithaca over the next four years.

Finally, Lehman’s proposal to extend the current contribution schedule by 16 years suggests annually determined donations to the city that would adjust according to changes in the consumer price index.

Ithaca Mayor Alan Cohen ’81 originally suggested the increased contribution when he visited Lehman in Michigan shortly after the announcement of his presidency. After a period of deliberation by Lehman, the two met again in September to negotiate the new agreement.

“We sat down and exchanged ideas and eventually came up with what we came up with,” Cohen said.

The current agreement was finalized three days ago, he added. Aside from the size of the contribution, “there [were] other language changes in the agreement that had to be worked out.”

Those changes mostly concerned a cancellation clause, which in the original memorandum of understanding allowed for either Cornell or Ithaca to cancel the agreement “for any reason,” Cohen said.

A new clause was added in the new agreement, however, which allows for a middle ground in which Cornell could deduct from voluntary contributions rather than “canceling en masse.”

Cohen said he expects the Common Council to approve the new proposal.

“I think this is a great agreement, and what I want to underscore is the fact that this agreement, the investment in the downtown office building and the creation of the Cornell Office of Economic Development were all important steps that were taken by the University in a positive atmosphere of neutral respect and collaboration,” Cohen said. “And I hope that this serves as a model for future city administrations that the way to achieve the best results with the University is working cooperatively with them.”

Currently, the University’s contributions to Ithaca go toward the city’s general fund, which has a 2003 budget of $33.5 million and an expected 2004 budget of $36 million. According to Ithaca City Controller Steven Thayer, a significant portion of the University’s contribution must be committed to the city’s fire services, while the remaining amount supports general city services.

Cohen also said that “these monies [from the new agreement] will allow us to restore some laid-off positions in the budget and possibly reduce the proposed tax increase.”

The new president’s efforts to further develop a benevolent relationship between the city and the University were well-received by city officials.

“[This proposal] is a benefit for both parties,” Thayer said. “A strong relationship allows the city and the University to act as partners.”

Lehman will further demonstrate his commitment to strengthening the relationship between the University and Ithaca next month when he co-hosts a meeting to solicit community involvement in the Ithaca Public Education Initiative.

Archived article by Ellen Miller