Jason Ben Nathan / Sun File Photo/Sun File Photo

Ithaca's Common Council passed the 2020 budget last Wednesday, which calls for a provision of funds for the "Green New Deal."

November 12, 2019

Ithaca Common Council Passes 2020 Budget

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After months of revisions, proposals and back-and-forth, the City of Ithaca has finally settled on a budget for the upcoming 2020 year. Passed at a meeting of Ithaca’s Common Council meeting last Wednesday, the plan — which lists $80,397,578 in total spending — carries few surprises.

Calling for a 5.2 percent increase in spending, the budget’s aims largely skewed towards financial restraint, seeking to reduce the City’s debt load and tax burden and to purchase more efficiently and economically, according to a report published by Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 — who called the unanimously passed plan “a tremendous budget” and the product of “a very thorough process.”

Constituting over 40 percent of Ithaca’s revenues, the property tax rate rose modestly to $11.71 per $1,000 of taxable valuation, up from $11.60 in the previous budget — meaning that the owner of a house worth $500,000 will expect to pay just $55 more than last year. However, that hiked rate still represents the City’s second lowest since 2003.

The fee Ithaca residents pay for water increased by 10 percent from last year to $8.67 per 100 cubic feet of consumption, while sewage fees were unchanged.

While spending and tax policy remained only slightly altered, one of the budget’s few notable highlights came in the form of a decision to earmark funds for the implementation of Ithaca’s Green New Deal, a plan passed earlier this year that calls for the City to create 100 percent renewable electricity by 2025 and reduce emissions from the municipal vehicle fleet by 50 percent by 2025 with the ultimate goal of “achiev[ing] carbon-neutrality community-wide by 2030.”

But despite those lofty aspirations, only an additional $34,000 was allocated for the plan — or less than 0.0425 percent of the City’s budget.

The funding was additionally classified as a “restricted contingency,” which means the money will only be released to the Planning Department — the municipal agency responsible for directing the Green New Deal’s rollout — should the Common Council vote to do so at a separate time.

With plans already in place to hire a full-time sustainability coordinator who will begin this March, the budget report said that the funds may be used to hire a second position should a need to do so become apparent.

Concerns over the apparent tepidness of the City’s approach to implementing the ambitious plan have recently raised the ire of some local climate activists, catalyzing a move by environmental advocacy group The Sunrise Movement to run a slate of write-in candidates in last week’s local elections.

While all lost their elections and no incumbent official was removed, Common Council members had reportedly fielded calls from “dozens of people” in advance of the Wednesday meeting urging them to allocate as much money as possible to the Green New Deal, according to WSKG Public Radio.

“We all agree that climate change is an emergency … We have acted,” Alderperson and Chair of the Budget Committee Deb Mohlenoff (D-5th Ward) said at the meeting on the decision to reserve $34,000 in funding; however, other members stressed the importance of striking a balance between swift action and protecting the taxpayer.

Myrick previously told The Sun that while “we are seeking funding opportunities as aggressively as we can … we don’t want to raise taxes in the city; there’s only so much the residents can bear.”

Another council member expressed the need for other area governments to pick up the slack, noting that one city can only hope to do so much.

“I would hope that the same folks that have come to us, urging us to invest more money are also speaking to the Town of Ithaca, are also speaking to the county, and are also speaking to the state and the federal government,” Alderperson Seph Murtagh (D-2nd Ward) said at the meeting. “Because the only way we’re going to change this is if we do it together as a society.”