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Protests lead city to table paid parking plan

Jacob DeRochie/contributing photographer

Traffic moves up college hill near the SUNY Cortland campus in Cortland. The city of Cortland is revisiting the idea of paid parking along Prospect Terrace and James Street in Cortland. File Photo.

Cortland aldermen delayed a plan Tuesday to install paid parking along portions of Prospect Terrace and James Street after students, staff and SUNY Cortland’s president protested at a public hearing.

“Three weeks ago, there was an article in the local paper and it mentioned a resolution to have (paid) parking on Prospect and James and it caused a firestorm on my campus,” said Erik Bitterbaum, president of SUNY Cortland.

Bitterbaum was among roughly 10 people who spoke in opposition to the paid parking. Other speakers included students and staff in a standing-roomonly crowd at the city Common Council meeting.

Employees at the college who work at the Dowd Fine Arts Theater, the campus library, the college’s school of education, the campus childcare center and Corey Union were upset, Bitterbaum said. “For two weeks, they felt that this is a tax on their ability to work at the college; it’s discriminatory; they thought it was nasty; they pointed out to other faculty and staff, who don’t even work in those buildings.”

Bitterbaum asked council to table the resolution to allow the college to meet with common council members.

“This is not a fair tax on a target group of people, which is the SUNY Cortland community,” said Sophie Umansky, president of the college’s Student Government Association. It insults students, faculty and staff who make contributions to the Cortland community, including Crop Hunger Walk, The Big Event and the Cortaca Cleanup.

“I could stand here for 20 minutes and tell you all that we do,” she said. “And we don’t want to stop.”

Others who spoke at the public hearing included faculty and residents along Prospect Terrace and James Street.

Alderman John Bennett (D-4th Ward) said during the regular meeting that new taxes on city residents — including a loss in sales tax and an increase in county tipping fees leading to an increase in blue bag fees — will put a strain on property taxpayers. The city has also given financial aid to the Cortland Rural Cemetery.

Bennett said that with all things taken into account, property taxpayers are already being highly taxed. “I can not, I can not put any more on the property taxpayer,” he added.

The idea for the paid parking was shared with SUNY Cortland, but not discussed.

“There has not been a dialogue in terms of final product or things that would potentially be mutually agreeable,” said Mayor Brian Tobin. “There has been conversations about the city looking into it.”

Following the public hearing, the common council tabled the resolution.

In the proposal, at least 80 paid parking spots would be created and the city hopes to gain between $75,000 and $80,000 a year, Bennett has said. The paid parking would be handled through a downloadable app from Park Mobile. The city of Ithaca and Cornell University are among those that already use the app.

There is also little cost to the city for the parking app. There will be a small surcharge on top of the parking fee.

Supporting documents attached to the council agenda show parking would cost $1.25 for the first hour and $1 each additional hour on the south side of Prospect Terrace from the west end of Neubig Road to James Street, and for James Street from north of Tompkins Street to Prospect Terrace.

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