Cameron Pollack / Sun Senior Photographer

The Ithaca Common Council, pictured at a September 13th meeting, met on Wednesday, where they listened to a presentation by the Southern Tier AIDS program and addressed a recent removal of television channels.

March 9, 2018

Ithaca Common Council Debates Future of Injection Sites, Local Television Channels

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The Ithaca Common Council considered passing a resolution that would support the establishment of a safe injection site in the city at the Common Council meeting, Wednesday.

The meeting also addressed a few other issues, including the creation of an environmental education center and the possible implementation of a sustainability program. The council also requested that Spectrum reinstate two local television stations as parts of its basic cable package.

Though no official legislation was passed regarding the injection sites, the Council listened to a presentation by the Southern Tier AIDS program, which is moving ahead to bring non-city-funded safe injection sites to Ithaca.

John Barry, executive director of the Southern Tier AIDS organization, said that Ithaca was already “far ahead of other communities in addressing the opioid and heroin crisis.” The existing efforts include the needle exchange program founded in 2002.

“We are passionate about this issue and we are tired of reading obituaries for 20-somethings,” Barry said.

The Southern Tier AIDS program plans to expand its work with a safe injection site in a building that it currently owns at 314 West State Street. The program does not plan to ask the city for monetary assistance.

The Council also showed support for Ithaca Children’s Garden’s intention to construct an “Urban Environmental Education and Community Center” in Cass Park at 701 Taughannock Boulevard. Although the establishment of the center is not officially approved, the garden is now allowed to seek funding from the state.

According to Erin Marteal, executive director of the Ithaca Children’s Garden, the goal of the center is to “provide environmental education and a space that’s open to everyone”.

The space, which is currently owned by the city, would be leased to the garden in order to construct the indoor facility.

Alderperson George McGonigal (D-4th Ward), however, expressed concern over the limited access the public would have to a building constructed by an outside entity.

“This is a public park,” he said. “That’s what it is.”

The Common Council will eventually be able to control when and how often the building is open to the public.

“This is just allowing the idea to move forward,” Murtagh said, expressing support for the facility before the plan was approved with a 9-1 vote. Alderperson Cynthia Brock (D-2nd Ward) voted against the measure.

In response to Charter Communications Corporation and Spectrum’s decision to remove WENY-TV and WSKG-TV from its basic cable package, the Common Council unanimously passed a resolution requesting the company put both stations back to the basic cable packages offered to residents of Tompkins County.

“Spectrum, formerly Time-Warner Cable, has not been a great partner in our community,” Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 said.

“I’ve heard from so many people who are concerned about the WENY and WSKG situation,” Murtagh agreed, citing public support for the two channels.

Charter informed the city that they planned to discontinue the WSKG station due to overlap in content, which the board disagreed with in the resolution.

“Charter claims that they had no choice in the matter with WENY,” McGonigal said. “Our culture [in Ithaca] is straight-up honesty … they have a vile business model.”

Donna Fleming (D-3rd Ward) agreed. “They are making a choice not to listen to their customers,” she said.

The Ithaca Common Council also passed in an 8-2 vote an amendment to local law to expand a sustainable energy loan program in Ithaca. McGonigal and Brock voted no.

The program hypothetically allows property owners to apply for the Property Assessed Clean Energy program, a sustainable practice financing program that encourages property owners to increase their sustainable living practices by providing them with loans, part of which would come from state funding.

Murtagh, who voted for the proposal, and Brock both opposed this law, both of them citing the potential risks of having private homeowners take part in this program, which is not yet in practice in New York State.

“This is a financial tool that is a very unusual financing tool,” Brock said. According to her, if a homeowner fails to pay back their loans, they run the risk of losing their home. Additionally, if they were to sell their home, the loan would transfer with the house.

“There is controversy out there over this program,” Murtagh said, citing the conflicts that happened with similar programs in California.

To address this issue, the Common Council voted unanimously to adapt an amendment banning this practice for private homeowners in Ithaca, while accepting the program for commercial owners.

Lastly, the board approved a variety of official board appointments. A discussion was held over the replacement of Ithaca Planning Board members John Schroeder ’74, alumni advisor for the Cornell Daily Sun Alumni Association, and Prof. Garrick Blalock, applied economics and management.

“This would be an appropriate time to inject some new perspectives — some fresh blood, some new energy,” Myrick said. “[However,] I don’t think we can ever say enough of the service of John Schroeder.”

Despite Schroeder’s 16-year tenure on the board, the Common Council ultimately voted 8-2 to approve the replacements, with McGonigal and Graham Kerslick (D-4th Ward) voting against.

The board’s final action was to announce an Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency Public Hearing for March 29 at 8:30 a.m. in the Common Council room.

Not on the docket for the night were several current local controversies, including the the final decision on the landmarking of the Nines, which will be decided at the economic development meeting on Mar. 14.