ITHACA, N.Y. — A handful of residents showed up at City Hall early Friday morning to criticize a proposed $5 fee for tabling on the new Ithaca Commons.

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One local resident, Neil Oolie, held up a copy of the Constitution and said the fee — which would charge residents to set up a table on the Commons at which they could pass out information or talk about various causes — would be a prohibitive restriction of his free speech.

“$5 is a hell of a lot of money; I’m sorry, $5 to table on the Commons is more than I can afford,” he said.

The fee was also criticized by at least two members of the Commons Advisory Board, which met Friday morning,

“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 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.’”

City Clerk Julie Holcomb said the fee has been floated to offset permitting costs and the manpower costs of licensing on the Commons.

“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. “… This conversation started in recognition of that.”

She stressed that it wasn’t free for the city to run the licensing operation and that the city clerk’s office had limited resources and time.

“It is an extremely time intensive program to run, and that’s why we’re looking for more staff to do it,” she said.

“It is something that’s been on the radar for a long time … Some people are already saying we’re spending too much money on the Commons.”

The proposal would have to be approved by the Board of Public Works.

Jeff Stein

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