Local News: Ithaca Common Council approves pay deal with Cornell

- Ithaca Common Council approves payment agreement with Cornell University -

The Ithaca Common Council voted 9 to 1 on Wednesday night to approve a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Cornell University. Cornell has tax-exempt status. The MOU sets out what the Ivy League university will pay the city in place of property taxes. The special meeting did not have a public comment period but people filled the Council meeting chamber. Alderperson Robert Cantelmo began the meeting by proposing two amendments. One would have changed the length of the MOU from 21 years to 10 years. The second made changes to what’s become a controversial clause that would prohibit city officials from lobbying to change the university’s tax-exempt status. 

Mayor Laura Lewis and City Attorney Ari Lavine said that Cornell negotiators had already made it clear they would only accept a change making the MOU 15 years long and no less. 

There was a robust discussion among the Council members. Several expressed dissatisfaction with the MOU. Some said the loss of the $4 million a year would do too much harm to the city’s most vulnerable residents, force layoffs of city workers, and could hurt the city for years to come. About 90 minutes into the meeting the Council voted for a 15-year agreement. Cornell will pay Ithaca $4 million a year with an adjustment for inflation. The city is allowed to lobby to have the school’s tax-exempt status changed but under the new deal, the city cannot support or initiate litigation relating to the MOU. Cynthia Brock was the only Alderperson to vote against the MOU. 

Cornell Vice President Joel Malina issued a statement shortly after the meeting ended saying the university appreciated the Common Council’s vote for the amended agreement.

Cornell’s Board of Trustees must approve the MOU before it can go into effect. They are scheduled to meet in Ithaca October 20-21.

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