Local News: Ithaca Common Council to vote on Cornell MOU tonight

The Ithaca Common Council is set to vote on a negotiated Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Cornell University in a special meeting tonight. I’ll have a report on the results of the vote tomorrow morning. This is a brief recap of what’s at stake. 

Cornell has tax-exempt status so it doesn’t have to pay property taxes on most of the real estate it owns in the city of Ithaca. The MOU sets terms for Cornell to make payments instead of taxes to the city.

Ithaca’s last agreement with Cornell was negotiated about 25 years ago. This September, Mayor Laura Lewis announced a new agreement following several months of negotiations between officials from the university and the city. Here are some of the numbers. Cornell owns just shy of 50% of the property in Ithaca. The city says if taxed it would be worth about $35 million. 

Under the new MOU Cornell would pay the city $4 million a year for the next 21 years. There would be annual increases for inflation. This year it gave Ithaca $1.6 million. Over the life of the new agreement, Ithaca would get about $100 million. Either Cornell or the city can end the MOU at any time with six months' notice. The deal also comes with terms opponents say are unfair. Among them is a requirement that Cornell participate in the decision-making about how some of the money will be spent. It also prohibits city officials from lobbying for a change in the university’s tax-exempt status.

Opponents want the Council to reject the deal and renegotiate the whole thing after elections this November. They say Cornell should and could give more. They point to Cornell’s multibillion-dollar endowment and other revenue. They also believe the amount Cornell has offered is small compared to other Ivy League universities.

Cornell and other Ivies make contributions to the public school system, and local non-profits involved in housing, public transportation, and other services. Earlier this week, Cornell announced it will give over $1.5 million to help increase childcare services in Tompkins County.

Last week, Mayor Lewis presented the draft 2024 budget of over $101 million. It assumes the MOU will be approved and the City will get $4 million from Cornell.

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