ITHACA, NY – On Wednesday, dozens of Ithacans crowded into the Common Council Chambers in support of a minimum wage increase, but not everyone was on board.

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The first hour and a half of the meeting was focused on the subject as well over a dozen people spoke. The vast majority strongly, often passionately urged Common Council to throw their weight behind the measure.

One of the few dissenting voices came from Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce President Jennifer Tavares. Tavares had actually come to speak about a planned renovation at Ithaca Falls, but used her last minute of speaking time to provide an alternate perspective on the minimum wage issue.

Tavares started by saying that while she appreciated the struggle of trying to make ends meet, many of the small businesses the Chamber represents experience that same struggle.

Tavares revealed that the Chamber of Commerce had begun conducting a survey earlier in the week, soliciting opinions from the hundreds of local small businesses in the county. “We really wanted to take temperature, we’ve heard a lot of anecdotal comments from folks and I really wanted to know where they stood,” she said.

The council chambers were packed at Wednesday’s meeting.
The council chambers were packed at Wednesday’s meeting.

The results of the survey so far indicated that 60 percent of local small business owners were “extremely concerned about a 70 percent wage increase in such a short period of time.” She noted that most of the small businesses that the Chamber of Commerce represents are not minimum wage employers.

Tavares related things she had heard from some business owners. “I’ve got numbers saying ‘it’s going to cost me $20,000 a year, $50,000 a year, $100,000 a year. I will have to reduce hours. I will have to let people go. I will have to move people from full time to part time.’”

Tavares concluded by saying, “I just want it known that those are considerations that have to be discussed when we talk about increasing wages. Yes, wages need to go up for a lot of people, but dealing with the wage compression issues… it’s a very real challenge for these businesses.”

Ultimately, the Common Council voted unanimously to support the minimum wage increase.

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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.