Local News: September 19, 2023

Opponents of the draft payment agreement between Cornell and the City of Ithaca protested on campus Monday evening. The new proposal would require Cornell to pay Ithaca $4 million a year over the next 21 years with regular increases for inflation. That’s up from the $1.6 million currently paid. Opponents like Kay Minnix don’t think that’s nearly enough.

She was painting a sign near the school's iconic bell tower. She was one of about one hundred people who came to the rally. 

"Cornell has a $10 billion endowment. If they just gave Ithaca a portion of the interest they are making annually it would be enough for us to uplift this community," she said.

Minnix and others say Cornell can and should give more because they use many services provided in Ithaca from healthcare to public busses and housing. The university is tax-exempt. The payments sometimes called ‘voluntary donations’ are instead of property taxes for real estate the Ivy League school owns in Ithaca. The city estimates all that property is worth about $33 million. Agreements like are common between Ivy League universities and colleges and their home communities.

In a joint statement about the proposed new plan, Cornell listed other ways it says it contributes to the local community among them donations to “TCAT, the Community Housing Development Fund, and the Ithaca City School District.” 

Some Cornell students and professors are also at the demonstration. Risa Lieberwitz is a professor of labor and employment law.

"That word 'voluntary' really doesn't capture it. What this is, is a moral obligation for Cornell to make fair payments to the City of Ithaca in lieu of paying taxes," she told the crowd.

The Ithaca Common Council will vote on the draft payment agreement at a special meeting on September 20. The crowd near the bell tower wants them to vote ‘No’ and negotiate a different deal. One this group says would be better for the people of Ithaca.

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