Ithaca City Hall

ITHACA, NY -- Budget season is upon us, and Mayor Svante Myrick presented the capital projects the city’s Capital Project Review Committee recommends to the Common Council at the Sept. 29 meeting. Normally, the city spends about $4 million on capital projects as that’s about what it pays down in debt every year. However, the city of Ithaca was awarded $17 million from the federal government as part of the American Rescue Plan Act, which led to Myrick and the committee deciding to recommend a little over $10 million in capital projects this year instead.

There were quite a few recommended projects related to economic development — eight in total — to continue to support local businesses’ recovery from the pandemic. This includes a mini grant program from the Downtown Ithaca Alliance for $200,000, which will go toward supporting any local business, a $125,000 workforce re-entry program to support employers in their efforts to attract and retain employees, $50,000 for a grassroots crowdfunding initiative to support businesses owned by women and people of color, $125,000 to provide character-based loans to fiscally underserved micro-mid-sized businesses, $100,000 to develop and implement an action plan to support the growth of small-scale manufacturing, $50,000 for Route 13 gateway signage such as installing district informational signs, directional signage to city parking, pedestrian wayfinding signage to down and more. Additionally, $150,000 would go to Ithaca Area Economic Development to support implementation of its Tompkins County Economic Recovery Strategy.

A large chunk of money, about $800,000, would also go to improvements on Route 13 at 5th Street and Buffalo Street. This supports traffic at the in-progress Cayuga Park development which is anticipated to create jobs, housing and business opportunities that will result in an increase in traffic volume. The $800,000 would go toward things like widening Route 13, sidewalks, a refuge island, landscaping and a traffic signal for 5th Street crossing, as well as modifications to turning movements at Buffalo and Meadow/Fulton, signal modifications, signage, bicycle and pedestrian improvements and converting West Buffalo St to one-way.

In the engineering sector, $460,000 is proposed to go toward Cass Park Rink renovations, including enclosing the rink, adding dehumidification and HVAC systems, putting in bleacher seating and installing a fire suppression system. Another $795,000 would go to new sidewalk installations on Oak Avenue and Fall Creek Drive, $750,000 is proposed for Dryden Road Parking Garage repairs and $50,000 is proposed for the bridge maintenance program.

Two large projects totaling $450,000 are proposed for the Fire Department; $150,000 would go toward refurbishing the East Hill Fire Station to extend its useful life for at least another 30 years, while another $300,000 would go toward renovating the Central, South Hill and West Hill fire stations to provide repairs and upkeep.

A $300,000 project is proposed for GIAC, which would provide the organization with a new gym that will allow them to accommodate 30-40 additional children off the waitlist. Another $495,000 is proposed to go to the Ithaca Youth Bureau to replace the Cass Park pool.

The committee is recommending spending $150,000 to make some upgrades to the Human Resources Department, namely putting $100,000 toward automation programs. This will allow the automation of repetitive HR tasks such as onboarding and offboarding processes, time and attendance record keeping, leave requests, performance management system and self-service automation for benefit selection and training registration. The other $50,000 would go toward a compensation study for all city employees. Myrick said there hasn’t been one done since at least 2011.

“We have to make sure our compensation is competitive to attract and retain people,” he said.

The committee recommends putting $100,000 toward the Community Housing Trust as Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services works to develop six new units of affordable for-sale housing. Another $10,000 is recommended as part of the Continuum of Care plan which sees the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency partner with the county to develop a strategic action plan to prevent and address homelessness.

A proposal of $50,000 would go toward Vision Zero Safety Project which examines safety improvements on roads throughout the city using things like enhanced signage at intersections and traffic coming, or larger changes that will slow speeds or make pedestrian crossings more visible.

Another $50,000 is proposed for creek bank stabilization and repair. The money would go toward shoring up creek banks and studying where else might need repair.

The Planning Department is proposed to receive $200,000 for design and construction drawings to improve the 400 block of College Avenue. Another $40,000 will go to upgrading the department’s out-dated office furniture, which Myrick called a “risk to our employees’ long-term health.”

For the Police Department, the committee recommends spending $275,000 to replace a handful of old and aging police vehicles that are beyond their service life.

A few different technology upgrades in the Public Information and Technology Department would cost about $650,000 and would include things like moving to cloud-based email, computer replacements, enhanced security licensing and cyber security training.

With a director of sustainability in place for the first time for budget season, there are a few recommendations that will go toward accomplishing tasks that are part of the Green New Deal. About $160,000 will go toward a city electrification feasibility assessment, $100,000 will go toward hiring a community choice aggregation consultant and $40,000 will go toward the installation of four public electric vehicle charging stations with two charging points each.

Unsurprisingly, Water and Sewer have quite a few expensive projects that need to be completed. The committee is recommending the following: $600,000 for a Meadow Street water and sewer design contract; a combined $875,000 for watermain replacements on West Avenue and Oak Avenue; $500,000 to repair the Public Works building on First Street; $100,000 for improvements to the Public Works building on Franklin Street; $500,000 to begin improvement on the 60-foot dam; $280,000 to replace three water and sewer vehicles; $75,000 for installation of line stops and additional valves on the gravity main; and $55,000 for a security fence at the Cornell Street tank site to prevent vandalism.

(1) comment

Hardy Griffin

Thank you for this comprehensive explanation! I know the Mayor and committee have a lot to balance, but I was saddened by the balance here -- only $10k to help the homeless but $150k for HR systems. I'm in the HR field and while I don't know the full details, that sounds like a Cadillac automated system for $100k when maybe half that would suffice and $60k would really make a huge difference to the homeless. I also count approx. $1M in money going to studies -- that's a ton to spend on consultants and feasibility! Is there no way to spend less on that and more on the actual doing?

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