February 5, 2012

Mayor: Cornell Should Increase Payment to City

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During his first State of the City address Wednesday, Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 announced his intentions to strengthen Ithaca’s relationship with Cornell, support city industries and expand downtown development over the next year.

Of the many goals he proposed, Myrick — who delivered the address at the Feb. 1 Common Council meeting — emphasized the need to strengthen the City’s relationship with Cornell.

In a statement issued Saturday, he said that in late 2011, former Mayor Carolyn Peterson requested that President David Skorton increase the University’s contribution to the city’s budget, a request that Myrick said was “rebuffed.”

Because Cornell, as a non-profit, does not pay property taxes, the University pays an annual sum to compensate through a Memorandum of Understanding to the city — an agreement written in 1995 and amended in 2003.

City officials have recently said that due to Ithaca’s constrained budget, the University must increase its MOU allocation — a call Myrick appeared to take up in his city address.

“We must make it clear that if the University does not increase their investment in our economy, our mutual success is in danger,” he said, according to the statement.

Myrick’s declaration follows questions raised about his allegiance to the University throughout the mayoral campaign. Some of his opponents publicly worried that Myrick, who graduated from Cornell in 2009 and worked in the University’s alumni office until midway through his campaign, was too closely aligned with Cornell.

Still, Myrick also struck a conciliatory tone in his address, noting that the University and city should increase collaboration. He outlined a project for Ithaca that he said would attempt to mirror Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal to draw new universities to build campuses in New York City.

“I have asked the City of Ithaca’s economic development staff to develop our own proposal. Our goal: deliver to the upper administration at Cornell University a project that will fill a need of theirs while contributing to the tax base and economy of the City of Ithaca,” Myrick said. “It is no small task, but I have full confidence in the creativity and competence of our staff.”

Alderperson Jennifer Dotson (Green Party-1st Ward) said she supports Myrick’s initiative to propose projects that are a “win-win for both Cornell and the city.”

“I’ve really seen how positive this [approach] has been in the past,” she said, citing the TCAT bus service as a project that has benefited the city, county and the University.

Also in the city address, Myrick noted that the city will face difficulties in the coming year due to budget constraints.

“2013 will be one of the most difficult budget years in the city’s history,” he said, due in large part to a “slow economy combined with ever-increasing pension and health care costs.”

In light of these budgetary constraints, Myrick emphasized the need to “diversify our economy, build more housing and expand our tax base.”

He added that the decisions city officials make this year “will mean pain in the short term, but will set [the] city up for success and fiscal prosperity in the future.

Original Author: Rebecca Friedman