ITHACA, NY – The City of Ithaca continues to chisel out what they hope will be an enticing tax incentive for developers that also includes benefits to the community.

Previously discussed elements of the Community Investment Incentive Abatement Program (CIITAP) program have included energy standards and labor requirements.

This week, Ithaca’s Planning and Economic Development Committee discussed the issue of encouraging workforce diversity for the end-users of development projects. In other words, if a property will be developed into a hotel, for example what sort of standards for workforce diversity should that hotel be held to?

The committee consulted the city’s Workforce Diversity Advisory Committee (WDAC). The WDAC recommended the following plan.

The end user of a project would:

  • join the Diversity Consortium of Tompkins County, including paying dues and participating in at least two of six trainings offered yearly, as well as attending a bi-annual conference
  • implement management strategies for hiring, retention and promotion of women, people of color and people with disabilities for positions at all levels of the organization, in proportion with population demographics
  • implement actions designed to reduce and address workplace biases, such as staff trainings
  • On March 1 of every year of the abatement period, the end-user would provide reports to the WDAC and Tompkins County Area Development of how they are working toward these requirements and goals, as well as reporting workplace demographics

The WDAC also plans to develop a resource packet or toolkit for prospective employers, providing resources for how some of these strategies could be implemented.

Happy medium for city and county

Nels Bohn, of the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency, had consulted with the Tompkins County Industrial Development Agency (IDA). The IDA wants to be on the same page with the city on the CIITAP plan, Bohn explained, but there were some concerns.

“They already have local labor administration requirements, they’re working hard on energy performance standards, we’ve talked about a community benefit fund… and now this is another layer,” Bohn said. “They have basically one to two people working on all their IDA activities, they’re concerned it’s a staff overload.”

He added that there were also concerns about enforcement, because they feel that if something is required by the CIITAP program, that they should be actively enforcing it.

Furthermore, he presented the argument that enforcing a membership with the Tompkins Diversity Consortium may not be the best route.

“In some ways, you can lead a horse to water but… are you really going to get a better outcome if they’re not doing it voluntarily because they want to be there? I think they might very well see that there’s value in joining the consortium,” Bohn said.

Just prior to the meeting, Bohn presented a memo that offered some revisions to the WDAC’s wording to make it more palatable to the county.

“How can you talk about too much work?”

Members of the WDAC argued that there was really no such thing as “too much work” when it comes to encouraging equity and diversity.

“How can you talk about too much work in order to have equity?,” said Nancy Bereano, of the WDAC, during an impassioned argument against stripping down the language.

 “It can’t be an afterthought… for people of color, this isn’t an afterthought. This is an everyday ‘why is nobody listening?’” said WDAC chair Sue Kittel. “We’ve got to think what we saying when we say, ‘Well, it’s too much work to think about diversity.’ We’ve gotta think about how that’s living the values of the city.”

Alderperson Seph Murtagh, who chairs the Planning and Economic Development Committee, made the case that the program would ultimately be more effective if the county adopted it too, and that may not happen if the IDA wouldn’t be willing to accept.

Alderperson Cynthia Brock noted that the city has never asked for clawbacks or penalties for developers who did not follow through with the commitments made when applying for CIITAP, so the fact that the IDA was concerend about enforcing these things didn’t make sense.

She also pointed out that a fee is paid by developers applying for CIITAP, which should theoretically be used to fund staffing to cover the extra workload.

Other members of the committee agreed that the WDAC’s proposal wasn’t particularly onerous, and that diversity was not an issue on which the city should compromise.

The committee ultimately decided to circulate the WDAC’s version of the plan, meaning it will return for potential final approval during next month’s meeting.

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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.