ITHACA, N.Y.— City of Ithaca Mayor Laura Lewis and Cornell University President Martha Pollack released a joint statement Thursday announcing the two entities have reached an agreement on the university’s financial obligation to the city after negotiations reached a stalemate a week ago.  

Cornell will begin providing a $4 million voluntary annual contribution to the city, which would go into effect immediately upon approval by the city’s Common Council and the Cornell University Board of Trustees. The amount marks a $2.4 million increase from university’s current annual contribution of $1.6 million, which is outlined in the Memorandum of Understanding that was set to expire in June 2024. 

The agreement is subject to approval by the city’s Common Council and the Cornell University Board of Trustees. 

The $4 million will be adjusted annually for inflation until the agreement expires in 21 years, in 2044.

80% of each year’s contribution will be unrestricted, which means city officials will be afforded “broad discretion,” according to the statement, “to invest the funds for the well-being of city residents.” Under the current MOU, only 40% of Cornell’s voluntary contribution is unrestricted.

The remaining 20% must be spent on supporting city infrastructure and “other priority projects of mutual interest,” as outlined in the statement. 

As a part of the agreement, the university is to provide a $100,000 annual grant, for 21 years, for a faculty member to collaborate with the city on issues like sustainability. 

City officials and university representatives held four negotiation sessions this year between April and August, during which the city proposed the university contribute $8 million annually to the city. 

This amount represents approximately 25% of the $33 million in property taxes the institution would legally be responsible to pay if its property were taxable. 

Cornell’s initial offer was approximately $3.15 million per year, to which the city responded with a counter of approximately $5 million. Cornell then indicated, according to Lewis in a statement from last week, that “it would not offer an additional increase from the $3.15 million proposal and moved to end discussions.”

Pollack noted specifically in the statement the university plans to “continue to provide annual funding to support critical community priorities such as TCAT, the Community Housing Development Fund, the Ithaca City School District, numerous non-profits and a range of municipal-like services that support the Ithaca campus such as public safety, snow removal, sidewalk construction and paving.” 

Local officials and activists have requested Cornell increase its contributions to the city for nearly 30 years, and Lewis is the fourth mayor in Ithaca’s history to do so. 

Judy Lucas is a General Assignment Reporter for The Ithaca Voice. Have a story idea? Comment or question? You can reach me at or on Twitter @judy__lucas.