ITHACA, N.Y.—The last City of Ithaca budget meeting for 2023 wrapped up on Thursday, with quite a few topics as discussion items that ended in votes. The agenda can be viewed here, and the meeting can be watched in full here.
The 2023 budget will be voted on in its entirety at the Nov. 2 Ithaca Common Council meeting.
The first voting item, which passed 9 to 1, commits $100,000 for new initiatives addressing the homeless population in the city. This commitment matches the county’s ongoing operating budget from previous years and doesn’t have specific uses set aside. After brief discussion of changing the amount to $50,000, Alderperson George McGonigal was adamant about matching Tompkins County’s commitment (which is $100,000), adding that the city “expects the county to pay for social services because that’s their charge,” and that the commitment of funds is important for the homeless population.
Alderperson Ducson Nguyen noted that he believes a “much wider investment” will likely be needed for the increasing numbers of unhoused individuals supported in the city and county.
The next discussion item passed unanimously for $15,000 for the Tompkins County Public Library to cover operating expenses to be able to remain open on Sundays. Alderperson Patrick Mehler said that though the library is the county’s, supporting this initiative “provides a service to all of the kids, and makes a public good more available.” There had been talk about increasing that expenditure, both from the library itself and from the Tompkins County Legislature, but it was not
Acting Mayor Laura Lewis verbally supported the request and added that the library offers both cooling and warming centers during the necessary times, and now that the Green Street Garage has reopened, more people are drawn to the city, where the library is located.
Over the last several months, another hot topic has been that of sidewalk snow removal and who is responsible for it. Historically, homeowners have been responsible for the portions of sidewalk that touch their properties—but the issue of residents not clearing their portions of sidewalk has led to questions surrounding accessibility and safety.
Councilmembers were fairly evenly split on this issue: Lewis said that she “does not believe it’s the city’s responsibility to clear all sidewalks,” though she does think that curb cuts could be a separate discussion.
McGonigal said that, logistically, blocks would have to be cleared one by one, meaning that there would always be a first and a last—depending on snowfall, the blocks done earlier may be covered again by the time the staff finished with the last block. He finished by saying that it’s easier for property owners to be responsible for such work.
Alderperson Jorge DeFendini added that the question of sidewalk snow removal is at the top of the list in terms of questions he gets from constituents, though Mehler added that he doesn’t believe that the Department of Public Works would be able to handle the additional responsibilities when it’s already understaffed.
The $75,000 requested snow removal budget failed 4 to 6.
The next topic was that of a tech upgrade for the Southside Community Center to get at least 10 new computers and proper recording equipment for its studio. The initial ask was for $400,000, but, after discussion, McGonigal said he would support half. Other councilmembers agreed, and the vote passed 8 to 2 for $200,000 out of the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.
Five-thousand dollars were approved unanimously for community police board training, and $72,000 was passed 9 to 1 for the Ithaca Fire Department to replace an old, nonfunctioning vehicle with a new electric one. A request for $15,000 supporting KIDDSTUFF at the Hangar Theatre failed, before discussions got more complicated on the topic of reparations for Black Ithacans.
Councilmembers Phoebe Brown and DeFendini, on behalf of the Solidarity Slate, initially called for reparations for Black Ithacans earlier in October, requesting $1 million for a direct cash payment program.
Lewis said that, while she won’t support the request, she is in support of “programs where the city is able to partner with agencies and nonprofits doing this kind of work.” Brown adamantly pushed for the conversation to be continued, adding that she understands that ARPA funds can’t be used for the request.
Alderperson Cynthia Brock said that “providing government funding through government programs based solely on color [goes] against the Civil Rights Amendment which prohibits this type of issue based on color, race or gender.”
Alderperson Robert Cantelmo said that he would support the city exploring the issue further, though he “can’t support $1 million with no program attached to it.”
Cantelmo’s statement led to an additional proposal from Brown of $15,000 for a study on the topic, which failed in a 5 to 5 vote. Cantelmo suggested another amendment for $7,000 for a restricted contingency study on reparations. McGonigal voiced his hesitation due to the city’s many other projects.
Brown replied that she could find community members who would participate in the study before the vote failed 2 to 8.
The 2023 budget will be voted on in its entirety at the Nov. 2 City of Ithaca Common Council meeting.
Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly stated that the Hangar Theatre amendment passed.