Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 ruled out a veto of Common Council’s changes to his 2018 budget on Friday morning, paving the way for the amended budget — which would increase city property taxes by $21 for the median homeowner to cover several additional expenses council members deemed necessary — to pass next week.
Myrick had told The Sun on Thursday night that he was “considering vetoing” Common Council’s changes as the body was making its final amendments to his proposed budget. But in a phone interview on Friday morning, Myrick said he had “slept on it” and will certainly go along with the council members’ alterations to his budget.
The budget Myrick proposed on Oct. 4 would have kept Ithacans’ property tax rate the same as in 2017, but would have still brought the city 2.8 percent more in revenue than in 2017 because of a 2.8 increase in the assessed value of taxable property in the city, from roughly $1.84 billion to $1.9 billion. The city would have brought in $22.8 million in tax revenue, up 1.13 percent from 2013.
But Common Council amended Myrick’s budget on Thursday night, proposing that the city increase the 2017 tax rate by just over one percent for 2018 to pay for several new city employees and other equipment and services.
Myrick had proposed keeping the property tax rate at $12.04 per $1,000 of assessed property value, but Common Council wants to increase that rate by just over one percent, to $12.14 per $1,000.
“I believe that the high taxes in Ithaca are a real threat to the quality of life here and I worked hard to create a budget that would increase the service delivery” to residents without increasing taxes, Myrick said on Friday morning. “Council’s changes will raise taxes slightly, but will also increase our ability to keep Ithacans safe and improve our infrastructure.”
The mayor also said he was worried about how vetoing the changes would have affected his “working relationship with council.” He may also have been concerned that Common Council could override his veto if seven of the body’s 10 members chose to do so.
If Myrick agrees to Common Council’s amendments, the median homeowner would pay $21 more in property taxes than in 2017 and the city would bring in 3.62 percent more tax revenue. Under the mayor’s proposed budget, the median homeowner would have paid no more in property taxes in 2018 than in the prior year.
The $230,000 Common Council proposed adding in expenditures to Myrick’s budget would be used, mostly, to pay for the addition of four positions. Those positions include a full-time motor equipment mechanic helper ($56,210) and a full-time working supervisor for buildings and grounds ($52,000 for April 1 through Dec. 31) — positions needed by the Department of Public Works, said its superintendent, Michael J. Thorne. The expenditures would also fund two housing inspectors ($36,082).
Common Council also voted to propose creating a full-time health and safety coordinator in the Human Resources department ($28,796), and to allocate $15,000 for gorge rangers and $31,000 for portable radios for the Ithaca Fire Department.
“The people who live here are suffering mightily — mightily — with the property tax burden,” Myrick said, urging city representatives to keep the tax levy under 2.94 percent, the number encouraged by New York state this year. With Common Council’s final amendments, the tax levy, or increase in revenue from taxes, is 3.62 percent higher than in 2017.
Deb Mohlenhoff, Fifth Ward alderperson who led the budget meetings, said that the city is allowed to go over the tax levy cap imposed by the state, and council had already voted to allow itself to do so. She and other council members said the positions and equipment being funded was important enough that it was necessary for the city to go over the cap.
“Next year’s budget is not going to be pretty either,” she said.
Common Council nearly proposed hiring a city paving crew for $560,000, which would have greatly increased Ithacans’ tax rate while, Thorne said, allowing the city to repair more roads and accomplish other tasks in the winter. That proposal was one vote short of passing.
“My first priority is to come up with a budget that the people who can live here can afford — the people who live here now and not the people who live here in the future,” Myrick told council members. “My second priority is to craft a budget that council will approve and my third priority is to meet every department’s request.”
Common Council considered eliminating $39,000 in funding to the Newman Municipal Golf Course and $10,000 to a participatory budgeting program, in which citizens in a city ward would decide what projects to fund without needing city approval. Council members ultimately agreed to fully fund both.
Common Council will vote on implementing the amended budget at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 1 in City Hall.
Myrick’s full proposed budget can be read here. The proposed budget does not reflect the amendments passed by Common Council on Thursday night.