ITHACA, N.Y. — City officials are postponing a proposal to charge small fees for tabling on the new Ithaca Commons.

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The idea came under criticism at a meeting of the Commons Advisory Board earlier this month, with several board members and city residents saying that the planned $5 fee would curtail residents’ free speech.

City Clerk Julie Holcomb said the tabling fee was floated to offset permitting costs and the manpower costs of licensing on the Commons. (“Tabling” refers to setting up a table at which to pass out information or talk about a political issue or cause.)

“There are administrative costs for issuing those permits — monitoring them, checking whose in what space at what time, have they left trash behind?,” she said at the July 10 meeting. “… This conversation started in recognition of that.”

On Tuesday, Holcomb said in an interview that the fees idea will be postponed for 2015 — if not taken out of consideration entirely.

“It looks like, for now, there won’t be any fees and there wouldn’t be fees until next year,” she said.

“It met significant resistance at the Commons Advisory Board level, and we don’t want to go to the Board of Public Works without them being on board. They play a vital role in Commons permitting and we want to be sure we can reach a consensus.”

The fee was criticized by at least two members of the Commons Advisory Board as well as a handful of local residents at a meeting at City Hall. “This is the entry-level of discussion for our community … to sit there and say I want to talk about this issue,” said Joe Wetmore, owner of Autumn Leaves, and a member of the Commons board.

“It’s a really important part of our politics and I don’t think we should be pricing people out of it. We don’t want to say, ‘Only people with a certain income can be there.’”

Holcomb said on Tuesday that the new Commons will generally follow the old tabling rules for 2015, which don’t charge residents to set up a table on the Commons or at the Bernie Milton Pavilion.

“We’re continuing in discussion, but, yes, we don’t believe a proposal will go to the Board of Public Works for at least a month,” she said. “It looks like for now there won’t be any fees and there wouldn’t be fees starting until next year.”

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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.