ITHACA, N.Y. –– At the December meeting of the City of Ithaca Common Council last week officials heard constituents’ thoughts on the impending installation of 5G cell towers, discussed city finances and discussed the Planning and Economic Development (PEDC) recommendation to allow dogs on the Commons –– a discussion that ended in stalemate.

Before the meeting began in earnest, councilperson George McGonigal addressed the recent spike in coronavirus cases locally and the the deaths at the Oak Hill Manor nursing home.

“I just want to say on behalf of my colleagues we’re very sorry for the loss of life and very hopeful that everyone else will get better,” he said. 

See the full agenda for the Dec. 2 meeting here.

5G Concerns

Last Wednesday’s Common Council meeting public comment consisted of two concerned Ithacans asking council to consider safety precautions in their plans for a 5G cell tower installation. During its May meeting, the council approved a resolution to enter an agreement with Verizon to install small cell or wireless facilities with 4G and 5G capabilities. Since then, the city has an attorney on retainer helping to draft guidelines for installation.

Both speakers, Hadas Ritz, a Cornell engineering professor and Molly Kornblum, a local nurse practitioner, asked council to consider the personal and environmental health effects that are said to be related to 5G. 

Research has not proven that there are adverse health effects with wireless technologies, nor 5G in particular.  

Kornblum in particular talked about how the language in the current resolution permits a 5G facility to be as close as 8 feet from building fronts.

“That sounds much too close to me,” she said. “I really cannot fathom that placing a cell tower 8 feet from my home or my child’s school is safe.” 

In response, City Attorney Ari Lavine assured both council and the public that the attorney on retainer working on the language of the resolution guidelines is taking the public’s concerns seriously.

“We’re definitely taking into account public safety and health in the process,” he said. 

City finances and capital project approval

Council approved a resolution for a capital project to improve E. State Street that will be financed in majority through federal grant money.

The project, which consists of milling and paving for E. State Street from the bottom of the hill to Eddy Street, is set to be financed 80 percent by federal funding and 20 percent non-federal, or city, funds. 

Council also voted to refinance its bonds from public improvement projects, saving the city over $300,000 at a time when the local government is facing extreme financial fallout as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. 

According to City Controller Steve Thayer, Ithaca is facing major revenue losses for 2020.

Thayer said the city is over a million dollars short on parking revenue, over two million short on sales tax, $270,000 under from fine collections and $70,000 under from trash tags. 

There were bright spots however, as building and permit fees are more than $600,000 over budget, and water and sewer are both on budget. 

Dogs on the Commons

After a recommendation was passed unanimously by Ithaca’s PEDC to allow dogs on the Commons, the measure was then officially brought before Common Council last week.

After much back and forth, including support from councilpersons including Laura Lewis, who mentioned that the current ordinance banning dogs is not enforceable, the measure was tabled for the next session in January. 

The motion, which was tabled mostly because of confusing language regarding fines and waste pick-up regulations, will go back to the Planning Board and eventually be back before council in 2021. 

Anna Lamb

Anna Lamb is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at alamb@ithacavoice.com