ITHACA, N.Y. — With the City of Ithaca’s last two budget hearings scheduled for the final week of October, Ithaca’s Common Council could vote on finalizing the budget as soon as Nov. 2.
Budget meetings in recent weeks have seen Ithaca’s Common Council hearing from department heads in City Hall explaining the increase in their funding requests, as well as the leaders of organizations across the city asking for funds to be directed toward their cause.
You can watch the full meeting here. You can see the mayor’s proposed budget, budget narrative, and previous budgets here. The first public hearing story, largely dealing with Police and Fire Department funding, can be read here.
Included in this story:
2023 Proposed budget: $810,129, up from $763,664 in 2022 final budget.
In an Oct. 13 meeting, Ithaca’s Common Council heard from City Attorney Ari Lavine who did not suggest any major increase in funding for the city’s legal team. Lavine called it a “status quo request,” though hinted that if the city had more budgetary availability, then there would be a more substantial request.
The small budget increase for the Attorney’s Office is largely to hire one additional employee in a part time position.
Planning, Building, Zoning & Economic Development Department
2023 Proposed budget: $3.3 million, up from $3.08 million in 2022 final budget.
Planning, Building, Zoning & Economic Development Department Director Lisa Nichols said that the only change that they would make to Acting Mayor Laura Lewis’ the budget proposal would be to move up the start for an added Housing Inspector position. The position was initially proposed to start on July 1, 2023.
The additional funding in the department is mostly accounted for in the creation of the added Housing Inspector Position, and a planner position, as well as $25,000 of added funds to contract out for beautification projects in Collegetown.
In light of the City of Ithaca’s Director of Sustainability Luis Aguirre-Torres leaving, Alderperson Jorge DeFendini asked Nicholas what the timeline was to hire a replacement, and how this has affected the goals of the Ithaca Green New Deal (IGND) to achieve carbon neutrality in the City by 2030.
Nichols said that she and Rebecca Evans, the city’s Sustainability Planner, are putting together a work plan for the IGND to map out the next three to six months, before beginning the hiring process for the next Director of Sustainability. The City’s Sustainability Division is housed within its Planning Department.
“At this particular moment, we don’t think there’s a need to bring someone on right away. We need a little bit more time to organize a plan,” said Nicholas.
Southside Community Center
$550,000 requested for 2023, up from $150,000 granted in 2022
A one-time request has more than tripled the funding Southside Community Center is requesting from the city this year.
In addition to its $150,000 request for funding the programming the Community center provides, Southside is asking the Common Council for an additional one time infusion of $400,000 to help with long-overdue renovations of its kitchen and computer lab.
Kayla Matos, Southside’s Deputy Director, delivered the request to Ithaca’s Common Council. She said that Southside regularly feeds over 50 families a night, and that the aging kitchen can barely accommodate more than a single cook. Matos said that about $350,000 or $3750,000 of the one time funding request would go towards renovating the kitchen while the remainder would be used for upgrading the computer lab.
Southside is not a city department, though the City of Ithaca has helped to support the services that have run out of the center.
Brock brought up that she would like to see a description of the the programs that Southside is offering, as well as measurements of many people are being served by those programs.
Brock also added that the city normally does not invest in capital projects for city owned buildings that private organizations have long term leases on, which would make the potential of the city’s contribution to Southside kitchen renovations an exception. Brock brought up the example of the Hangar Theater as such a building that’s city owned but leased to another organization, but said that a formal proposal would help her learn more about what Southside is trying to accomplish.
Matos told the council that the renovations at Southside figure into a capital campaign to raise $5 million to renovate the entire center.
Speaking about the aged kitchen and computer lab at Southside, City of Ithaca Alderperson George McGonigal said the renovations “are legitimate needs. There’s no question about it. I do think we need a formal proposal.”
Fellow Councilor Phoebe Brown remarked that the kitchen at Southside hasn’t changed since she worked there in the early 1990s, when she first moved to the Ithaca area.
The general sentiment among council members seemed to be a strong interest in supporting Southside, yet a desire to see a more detailed formal written proposal for their request.
Friends of Stewart Park
Requested $200,000 for 2023.
Friends of Stewart Park (FSP), a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving Stewart Park, appeared before the Common Council to request $200,000 to go towards improving the park’s bathrooms and splash pad, which is an outdoor play area for children featuring fountains and sprinklers for kids to play in.
FSP’s Board president, Diana Riesman was joined by FSP’s Executive Director Rick Manning to make the pitch. The $200,000 request would be contributing to a multi-phase $2.65 million fund raising campaign which FSP has already raised about $2.4 million of, Manning and Riesman told the council.
Improvements to the splash pad and bathrooms are Phase III of FSP’s effort to improve the park’s amenities while prioritizing accessibility, as was done with Stewart Park’s new playground.
City of Ithaca Alderperson Robert Cantelmo noted that Stewart Park’s aging splash pad is made of solid concrete, and seeing it replaced would be in the interest of safety to some degree, and not just fun. Many modern splash pads are made using a softer rubber crumb-material instead of concrete.
Community Science Institute
$10,790 requested for 2023.
The Community Science Center’s Executive Director Grascen Shidemantle appeared before Common Council to request $10,790, an increase from the $10,000 the City of Ithaca contributed to CSI in 2022. The request has already been included in the city’s budget, and little discussion followed.
Tompkins County Public Library
$15,000 requested for 2023
Teresa Vatican, the Tompkins County Public Library’s (TCPL) Acting Director, appeared before Common Council to request $15,000 in additional funds from the city to go towards keeping the library open on Sundays.
However, this same request was declined by Common Council in Ithaca’s 2022 budget season, with 8 voting against. The reason being that most city representatives felt that Ithaca’s contribution to the library was already covered through the taxes Tompkins County collects from city residents.
“City residents pay a large amount of county taxes,” Alderperson McGonigal said to Vatican. “So what do I tell my constituents who say, this is great, but we’re already paying for this. Why should we pay twice?”
The library was able to open on Sundays in 2022. Vatican told the Common Council that this came as a result of one-time funding given to TCPL by the Town of Ithaca and the Friends of the Library.
Through sales tax, the City of Ithaca provides additional funds to the Tompkins County Library as a result of a county-city agreement. In 2022, the city gave $17,000 to the library through this channel.
Numerous Tompkins County Legislators have expressed their disappointment that the City of Ithaca didn’t step up last year with added funds to keep TCPL open on Sundays. “Nothing makes them angrier — the fact that we didn’t pony up any money last year. They gave me all kinds of grief about it.” said McGonigal. “So how we vote on this may save my hide, or put it in jeopardy.” He then joked to Vatican, “I will insist that if we contribute this money to the Tompkins County Public Library that city residents will be allowed to take out books for free.”
Unbroken Promise Initiative
$100,000 requested for 2023, up from $50,000 granted in 2022
Unbroken Promise Initiative (UPI) founder Jordan Clemons appeared before Common Council, hoping to double the funds granted to his organization from last year.
UPI, a nonprofit, was formed by Clemons after he began leading Black Lives Matter protests in the City of Ithaca in the summer of 2020. The organization is dedicated to directing investment towards Ithaca’s West End communities, and addressing inequities for disadvantaged communities.
Jordan told the council that UPI has started after school programs focused on giving students a place to do their homework and receive mentorship, as well as a curriculum to frame the importance “everyday decisions” can have on the rest of their lives.
Clemons said UPI is serving up to 30 youths, and that council can expect to see impact reports filled out by the families of the participating kids as well as other measurements of the program’s success. While it remains to be seen whether or not the group’s request will be approved, Brock spoke glowingly of the work UPI is doing.