Mayor Myrick with the outgoing and incoming Cornell presidents. (Courtesy of the mayor's Facebook page.)

Ithaca, N.Y. — Some Ithaca officials say they hope Cornell’s next president — Elizabeth Garrett, a top USC administrator — will prioritize town-gown affairs and renegotiate the university’s voluntary contribution to the city.

Alderperson Seph Murtagh described the issue as “the biggest thing facing the city” and “a really big point of contention between Cornell and the city.”

Cornell’s more than $1 million a year contribution to the City of Ithaca has been a much-debated topic among city officials and university administrators alike in recent years, particularly as the city has struggled to balance its budget.

City officials argue that an increase of the payout — called a “Memorandum of Understanding” — is needed to cover public services.

Renegotiating the contribution could help the city pay for services like fire protection, police services, street and road repair and repairs to city infrastructure, according to Murtagh.

Alderperson Steven Smith also cited the issue as one that should be a top priority for Garrett as she assumes her new office. You can read more about Garrett here.

Alderperson Ellen McCollister discussed other ways for Cornell to invest in the city, such as supporting better housing for Cornell faculty, graduate students and staff within the city limits. She said this proposal would have benefits for both the city and the university.

“It’s a win-win because you have great neighborhoods and quality housing close to campus,” McCollister said.

Mayor Myrick with the outgoing and incoming Cornell presidents. (Courtesy of the mayor’s Facebook page.)

But city officials also weren’t short on praise for current President David Skorton, who announced earlier this year that he would leave Cornell to be secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in 2015.

Garrett, who currently serves as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at USC, has big shoes to fill, they said. Murtagh described Skorton as a “phenomenal president.”

Smith praised Skorton as well.

“I think Skorton’s done a terrific job leading the university, and he’s led the university through some pretty trying times,” Smith said.

Smith said he thinks the city and university have been collaborating in better ways in recent years, pointing to efforts to improve the quality of life in areas like Collegetown.

“It would be nice to see those relationships continue to develop,” Smith said.

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