Ithaca Common Council juggled budget issues, traffic flow, 5G installation and public comment on police reform at its July 1 meeting.
Ithaca has now racked up a $2 million deficit as a result of the pandemic, according to a budget report given by City Controller Steve Thayer. The unprecedented financial hit is largely a result of lost sales taxes and temporarily canceled trash and parking fees.
Thayer said that the two most recent sales tax payments – in May and June – were 40 percent and 20 percent lower than payments from the same times last year, respectively. The two losses amounted to $1.06 million of the $2 million loss.
As of early July, the city’s April emergency furloughs of 87 city employees has saved Ithaca $500,000, according to Thayer.
Comments from residents featured discussion on police reform, as well as concerns over 5G internet.
One person urged the city to increase the accessibility of information about specific police officers, such as those with outstanding complaints. Another comment questioned whether the Ithaca Police Department’s nearly $13 million budget could be lowered.
Regarding the national conversation of defunding police forces, one comment asked the Common Council to be cautious if contemplating whether to defund the IPD, a move that no council members mentioned in the meeting.
Much like the rest of the country, questions of police reform have swept through Ithaca in recent weeks. Students and Ithacans alike have protested police brutality, community members presented an open letter to the IPD with demands including the disbanding of IPD SWAT team, the firing of officers deemed corrupt and the resignation of the current district attorney Matthew Van Houten.
The IPD recently decided to release the disciplinary records of police personnel, The Ithaca Voice reported.
Regarding prior concerns about 5G installation, Deb Mohlenhoff (D-5th ward) announced a July 21 information session for legislators of all municipalities in Tompkins County to learn about the science and technology behind 5G internet. The information session will be livestreamed to the public.
McGonigal also announced finalized plans to install a commemorative marker in front of the home on Cascadilla Street where writer Alex Haley — known for his novel Roots: The Story of an American Family and The Autobiography of Malcolm X — was born. The marker will be installed before what would have been his 99th birthday in August, and a celebration will be held next year for what would have been his 100th birthday.
The Common Council additionally discussed the choice between a three-way intersection or a four-way intersection at Route 13 and Fifth Street.
Arguments against the four-way intersection appealed to the density of the residential area, where many families with children reside.
The area around Route 13 and Fifth street has previously been zoned as mixed-use, for both residential and commercial development, according to Cynthia Brock (D-1st ward). Brock said that because of this prior designation, adding a four-way intersection is in line with the city’s long-term urbanization plans.
Seph Murtagh Ph.D. ’09 (D-2nd ward) and Laura Lewis (D-5th ward) vocally opposed the four-way intersection, seeking to keep the residential area quiet and citing safety concerns for children in the area.
“I want to support the residents of the neighborhood who have uniformly voted for and expressed their interest in a three-way rather than a four-way,” Lewis said.
Murtagh noted that if Common Council approved the four-way intersection, the resulting added traffic through the neighborhood would likely necessitate some “traffic calming measure” in the near future.
Ultimately, the Council ultimately voted 6-4 against the four-way intersection, with George McGonigal (D-1st ward), Ducson Nguyen (D-2nd ward), Murtagh, Donna Fleming (D-3rd ward), Graham Kerslick (D-4th ward) and Lewis voting against.
After shooting down the four-way intersection, the Common Council approved a three-way intersection with a tie-breaking affirmative vote from Mayor Svante Myrick ’09.
“We really need to knit the city back together across Route 13,” Myrick said. “I think that was a foundational mistake to carve the city in two like that.” Myrick added that the divide created by Route 13 has contributed to segregation and economic stratification.
“Re-knitting the city together will mean doing things exactly like this,” Myrick said.