Ithaca Common Council approves homeless encampment policy, delays Cornell funding agreement
The Ithaca Common Council approved a measure Wednesday allowing encampments on a specific parcel of land behind the Walmart on the city’s west end, known as the "Jungle".
The policy is meant to help the city, Tompkins County and other outreach organizations better control the existing homeless encampments in the area.
Ithaca Mayor Laura Lewis emphasized that the city will have to work with the county actively to administer the policy and make adjustments moving forward.
"This draft policy, which is a pilot, and I want to emphasize that. It is a one-year pilot during which we will learn a great deal. Going into this, we understand that there is much we need to learn and this pilot policy will allow us to learn and to build those collaborative relationships," Lewis said.
Under the plan, the city would work with the county to provide toilets, drinking water, needle disposal containers, and garbage collection in the area. Additional facilities like showers, storage and phone charging stations may also be added. It’s not clear where funding for these measures will come from.
Cornell funding agreement
The common council delayed a vote on its controversial funding agreement with Cornell University.
Dozens of people spoke at Wednesday’s special meeting, calling on the council to reject a preliminary agreement with the university announced last week.
Under the preliminary agreement, Cornell would voluntarily contribute $4 million per year to the city. That’s up from the $1.6 million the university contributes currently.
Alderperson Jorge DeFendini has been amongst the most vocal detractors of the preliminary agreement. He joined over a hundred people in a protest at Cornell University Monday.
During a line of questioning with Cornell Vice President for University Relations Joel Malina, DeFendini said the city’s current budgetary situation puts it in an unfair position to decide whether or not to accept an agreement now.
"We can't engage with, if we can support this MOU [memorandum of understanding] or not, if we decide that this is not an adequate enough deal, we can't really make that decision because we'll have to consider radically increasing our city's taxes or making immense cuts to our budget," DeFendini said.
“And that is why I would encourage the council to support the MOU," Malina said in response.
Several council members also criticized the 20-year duration of the proposed deal, as well as a provision carried over from the current agreement preventing the city from lobbying executive, judicial or legislative bodies to change Cornell’s tax exempt status.
Malina remained firm in opposing anything shorter than a 20-year agreement, citing the university’s desire for predictability in the long run. He did, however, note that the university may be willing to remove the lobbying provision.