Ithaca, NY — On Wednesday, after almost an hour of discussion, the Ithaca Common Council passed 7-3 a resolution to grant TCAT an additional $50,000 on top of its usual $829,000 annual contribution. 

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It was a small victory for TCAT – an increase over the $25,000 the city initially offered, but well short of the $103,568 they had originally requested.

The last TCAT budget increase was in 2009.

Why does TCAT say it needs extra funding?

TCAT is seeking this annual funding increase to help keep its service running smoothly.

According to TCAT spokesperson Patty Poist, “TCAT will need 30 replacement buses over the next five years and we now only know we have money for 16… Meantime, we have an aging fleet, which is requiring costlier parts to keep them in good working order… a lose-lose situation.”

At the meeting, TCAT Budget Chairman Bill Gray put it simply: “If we don’t have the money or budget to provide service, then we’ll have to change the levels of service.”

Convincing the Common Council was only one piece of the puzzle. Due to an agreement made when TCAT was formed, its 3 “local funders” – Tompkins County, the city of Ithaca, and Cornell University – must all agree on singular amount. Each funder must contribute exactly that amount.

Challenges ahead for TCAT 

With the Tompkins Legislature already on board, Cornell is the next step – if the university rejects the $50,000 point, it’ll be back to the negotiating table.

Even if Cornell agrees to that amount, TCAT still has some struggles ahead of it. The Common Council had to do some creative accounting, emptying a now-defunct account to cover the $50,000 increase this year. That money won’t be there next year, and several council members voiced concerns about being “locked in” to this funding increase and additional projected increases in subsequent years.

Both sides complained of miscommunication between all entities involved.

4th Ward councilman Steve Smith said, “To start off a 5-year plan with a negotiation like this, it doesn’t feel right. If we’re going to have a 5-year projection on increases from each partner, that seems like something where we should have representatives from each partner in a room talking about this with each other.” 

2nd Ward councilman Seph Murtagh then noted that they did have such a talk, last July.

TCAT Budget Chairman Bill Gray responded, “Last July when we made the presentation, we got silence. We weren’t asking for an increase, but we were projecting this increase. This year we communicated that the increase was in our budget. To me, you’re 18 months late saying, ‘Gee, we should all sit down because we’re being asked, we know this is coming.’ I mean, I can tell you, but I’m not going to hit you over the head with a 2×4.”

TCAT may find itself in a similar situation next year, lobbying for an even greater increase from three local funders who are all looking for any possible way to tighten their purse strings.

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.