ITHACA, NY — In a marathon meeting on Oct. 28 that had to be extended twice (finally coming to an end at 10:45 p.m.), Ithaca’s Common Council finished up fine-tuning the details of the budget and voted to send it along for a full vote at the Nov. 3 meeting.
This final meeting, in a series of budget meetings throughout the month of October, was used to go through all the requests above the mayor’s budget that had been presented to Council by different departments, as well as add any amendments of their own. By the end, the tax rate sat at $11.89 per thousand, which is a .34% increase, and the levy change is $26,366,541, a .95% increase.
A debated topic as of late and one that has been a subject in many different meetings was the right to counsel for eviction court. Alderperson Laura Lewis introduced this amendment, with $125,000 ultimate going toward this. There was discussion about funding the expense out of the American Rescue Plan Act funds for 2022 as a sort-of pilot program to gather data about the need for it, however Council ultimately decided to fund it as a recurring fund.
“I think it’s important and there probably is an ongoing need,” Alderperson Rob Gearhart said. “I do think it’s something we should budget for. We can spend a year figuring out how much this load is, but then we’d be in this same position next year.”
A lively discussion was also had about providing $15,000 in funding to Tompkins County Public Library. The library requested that amount from both the city and town of Ithaca to fill a funding gap to have open hours on Sundays.
Lewis supported the funding, saying she thought it was an important resource that should be available on Sundays.
“It seems to me during COVID, and as we’re headed into winter, kids in particular need the library to be open so they can do their work on the weekends, and so their family members have opportunities to use it,” she said. “The point was made that the number of patrons using the library is significant, and Sunday hours bring people into our downtown area which I also support.”
Alderperson Patrick Mehler agreed, calling the library an invaluable resource.
However, while that fact wasn’t up for debate, there was discussion about who should bear the burden of the cost to keep the library open on Sunday.
“I agree it’s a vital part of this community, and it’s important to have it open on Sunday. But it’s the Tompkins County Public Library. The county should be paying this $15,000 to keep it open on Sunday,” Alderperson George McGonigal said. “It’s not the city’s responsibility to pay to keep it open.”
Alderperson Donna Fleming agreed, pointing out that the city taxpayers pay the bulk of county taxes, and that the county got its own American Rescue Plan Act funds.
“We don’t charge people outside of the city to use Stewart Park and Cass Park, I don’t understand why the county came to the city to fill in a gap that they should be filling in themselves,” she said.
Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick said the County Legislature told the library that since the library is located within the city and gives city residents disproportionate access to the library, they should ask Common Council for the funds.
“I disagree with that logic,” he said. “I think the city is a good place for the library. It’s equidistant from Groton to Caroline and Newfield to Lansing. It’s in the middle of the county, which is why it is where it is.”
He echoed Fleming’s point that a third of county resources come from city of Ithaca taxpayers, and said on principle, he disagrees that the city should have to pay the $15,000.
However, he also pointed out that he thinks the library should be open on Sundays and if they deny the funding it won’t be.
“I suppose I was just picking my battles,” he said.
McGonigal said that denying the funding does not preclude the county from reconsidering and “covering their own responsibility and opening the library on Sunday.”
The request for funding failed, with only Lewis and Alderperson Ducson Nguyen voting in support.
Other interesting approvals were an increase in Common Council salaries, raising them from $10,000 to $13,000 to be closer in line with other municipalities. Additionally, they gave the mayor’s salary a 2% cost of living increase.
To watch the full meeting, visit the City of Ithaca Public Meetings YouTube page.