October 2, 2013

Cornell, City of Ithaca Spar Over University’s Financial Contributions

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The day after Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 called the amount Cornell contributes to the City of Ithaca “shameful,” the University issued a statement striking back.

“We at Cornell recognize the financial pressures on Ithaca and accept our responsibilities to contribute to our city. We remain committed to working collaboratively with the mayor and local officials,” the statement, which was published Wednesday, read.

The statement went on to criticize how Myrick asked for increased contributions from the University at a budget meeting Tuesday that was open to the public.

“Negotiations in public are rarely helpful. Demands are often counter-productive,” the statement said.

The University’s contributions to the City of Ithaca’s budget are laid out in a Memorandum of Understanding, which was written in 1995 and later amended in 2003. The MOU ties the amount Cornell gives annually to the city to the consumer price index — which measures the change in how much a bundle of goods and services costs to an average consumer — from the previous year.

The MOU is common in cities that host large universities because these institutions use city infrastructure, such as transportation, but as non-profits, are exempt from property taxes, The Sun previously reported.

The University contributed $1.23 million to the City of Ithaca budget from 2012 to 2013, and will contribute $1.25 million to the City from 2013 to 2014.

Cornell also makes additional contributions to the city beyond the government operating budget, such as to the Ithaca City School District and the Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Service, according to John Carberry, director of press relations for the University. These contributions totalled $2.15 million last year and are expected to total more than $3.24 million this year, according to the statement.

The University has complied with the terms of the MOU “in every respect … despite our own financial challenges during the Great Recession,” according to the University statement.

“Of course, beyond its direct financial contributions, the University has an enormous positive impact on the local economy and quality of life,” the statement said. “Cornell and Ithaca thrive when the city and University work together constructively. … We stand ready to conduct substantive conversations with our colleagues and counterparts in the City of Ithaca aimed at arriving at mutually beneficial solutions to difficult problems.”

The release called for cooperation between the city and the University.

“We believe as well that the likelihood of a successful resolution of our differences increases in the absence of ‘us versus them’ charges and characterizations that are not conducive to cooperation,” the statement said.

In an interview with The Sun, Myrick expressed his intent to gain increased monetary contributions from Cornell.

He said, however, that conversations and meetings with President David Skorton have resulted in “not much progress,” and noted that he did not plan the city’s 2014 budget with the expectation of an increase.

“I hope they will [increase the contribution]. I do,” Myrick said. “I don’t know if that makes me a hopeless optimist, but I have great hopes that they will see that an investment in the city is in their best interests.”