Cameron Pollack / Sun File Photo

October 14, 2018

Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick Says Cornell Should Pay More to City

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Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 blasted the University in an interview with The Sun on Thursday for not contributing enough to its home city after he unveiled a new budget plan for the city of Ithaca in which Cornell’s contribution increased by only a little less than $30,000.

“Ithaca would be a better place to live if Harvard were here instead of Cornell,” Myrick said. “The streets would be better paved, we’d have more police officers and the taxes would be lower.”

Cornell’s contribution to the total budget for 2019 is estimated at $1,365,594, a $29,936 increase over last year according to the budget narrative, but Myrick said that the University has an “enormous” impact on municipal operations, and gives little back to the city compared to similar institutions elsewhere.

In a Common Council meeting in the beginning of October, Myrick said that Cornell owns $2.1 billion dollars in tax-exempt property, which is nearly equivalent to all other taxable-property in Ithaca, the Ithaca Voice reported.

The University is expected to contribute more than last year partially because the proposed budget plan increased the stormwater fees — essentially a tax on impermeable surface area — for large property owners like Cornell by 81 percent.

“We’re not looking for fees that specifically target Cornell. What we want them to do is to voluntarily make a contribution that would make them good citizens,” Myrick told The Sun.

John Carberry, senior director of media relations, responded to Myrick’s criticism by citing Cornell’s myriad effects on the local economy as outlined in a 2017 University fact sheet, including $142 million in local spending, $5.9 million in taxes and fees, $55.9 million in construction, and $65.2 million in venture capital funding raised by Rev: Ithaca Startup Works and the McGovern Family Center for Venture Development.

Rev is a startup business incubator that began in 2014 as a collaborative project through Cornell, Ithaca College, and Tompkins Cortland Community College. In its four years of operation, Rev has spun off several companies that are now housed in Ithaca, including URSA Space Systems, a geospatial intelligence company, and Rosie, an online grocery shopping platform, both founded and headed by Cornell alumni.

According to statistics provided by Rev, the group has raised $18.2 million in capital, generated $7.8 million in revenue and created 76 jobs in Ithaca through the businesses it has helped launch.

According to its website, The McGovern Family Center’s mission is “ to foster the development of early-stage Cornell life science startups,” and to increase and retain “employment and economic development for New York State.” In 2017, McGovern raise $47 million dollars for it’s Ithaca clients and created 18 local jobs, according to the University fact sheet.

In a statement provided to The Sun, Joel Malina, Vice President for University Relations said Cornell was “proud of its numerous contributions to the economic health of Ithaca and Tompkins County,” adding that the University provides “significant financial support.”

Malina’s statement cited the $1.3 million repair of city-owned Forest Home Drive as the most recent example of Cornell’s support to the city with its utility and infrastructure costs.

The statement also highlighted Cornell as the third largest property tax payer in Tompkins County and its contribution of “millions of dollars each year” to non-profits like public schools, transit, day care and housing that help improve the city’s quality of life.

The budget narrative noted that the economy is “improving” but remains “unsettled.” When Myrick initally proposed the budget, he called the city’s financial health stable and said that with the proposed budget, general fund revenue would grow faster than expenditures. This implies that the city would not need to dip as far into its savings in 2019 as in the past year.

Funding plans for the Ithaca Police Department caused some dispute between the City and law enforcement leadership, as The Sun previously reported. IPD chief Pete Tyler claimed the department was at a “breaking point” due to low staffing during a budget planning meeting on Thursday.

As it is currently proposed, the budget plan includes no new funds for IPD, despite Tyler’s request for two new officers. Other requests for staffing and funding increases were made by Fire Department Chief Tom Parsons and City Clerk Julie Holcomb, but the Common Council provided nothing definitive in terms of new funding commitments as a result of the meeting.

Myrick touted the budget plan’s allocation of $450,000 for a seven-person paving crew to fix potholes, a common complaint for Ithacans. The crew will be phased in starting March 1 if approved in the budget plan, according to the narrative.

“This should be the headline for anyone who live in or drives through Ithaca,” Myrick said, according to The Ithaca Journal.  “If we just hire one guy and send him out with a shovel, not a big impact would be made for that cost … by getting up to the minimum to operate a crew, you can see a larger impact. The police staff works the same way.”

The budget process will move forward with a series of public hearings meetings between city departments and the Common Council over the next two weeks. The final budget approval vote is scheduled for Nov. 7, according to the City’s website.