Work

50 slaves work for me — how about you?

Courtesy SlaveryFootprint.org

Courtesy SlaveryFootprint.org

The film 12 Years a Slave —  based on the memoir of Solomon Northup, a New York State-born free African American man kidnapped in Washington, D.C. and sold into slavery in 1841 — received even more critical acclaim after winning three Academy Awards, including Best Picture. But slavery is far from being history, and is in fact incredibly prevalent around the world.

Recently I was enlightened to just how much modern-day slavery drives my lifestyle. SlaveryFootprint.org offers a free survey-style quiz to determine, based on different areas of consumption: food, clothing, electronics, etc. — approximately how many slaves ‘work’ for you.

My result was 50. I do not know their names, or faces. And neither does most of the international community. Conservative figures estimate that there are 27 million slaves worldwide (roughly equal to the entire combined population of Australia and New Zealand). The abolition of slavery unfortunately did not mean the end of the slave trade — only its visibility.

It is rather disturbing to visit the website and do this activity, with all its bright colors and aesthetically pleasing graphics — until you realize just what it is you’re unveiling. The quiz ends by asking if you would like to send notes to the various companies that have ties to slave labor, given that so many of the so-called ‘licit’ or legal trades we engage in on a daily basis are linked to this cheap, profitable and ‘illicit’ trade.

Try taking it for yourself. How high is your number, and what areas caused it to spike? Respond in the comments below, and please share any efforts you’ve heard or taken part in to expose and prevent slavery.

Ithaca City Hall helps same-sex couples collect newfound tax refunds

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Image courtesy Mint.com

The City of Ithaca vowed Tuesday to help employees in same-sex marriages receive refunds for federal taxes paid on spouses’ medical insurance, the Ithaca Journal reported.

Ari Levine, the City Attorney, announced that Ithaca can request the IRS to refund the taxes and will file amended W-2 forms on behalf of the employees. The assistance is good news for local same-sex couples as many others across the country are finding it difficult to navigate new tax benefits, as well as penalties associated with marriage.

Couples can retroactively claim refunds according to the new law for the previous three tax years. Last year, the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), specifically ruling in the Windsor v. United States case that the IRS cannot deny marriage tax benefits to people in states that recognize same-sex marriage. New York became the seventh state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2011.

The Huffington Post outlined key benefits the new law affords:

  • Deductions and Credits for Dependents — If you file married filing jointly, you will be able to take tax deductions and credits for your children, other dependents, or your spouse.
  • Dependency Exemption — The dependency deduction may mean an additional tax deduction of $3,900 per dependent and an additional $3,900 exemption for your spouse.
  • Earned Income Tax Credit — When you file as a married couple you may be eligible for an Earned Income Tax Credit worth up to $6,044 for 2013.
  • Education Credits and Deductions — Education is expensive, you may be able to claim a tax deduction on your taxes of up to $4,000 for your dependent or spouse’s education.
  • Lower Tax Rates When Filing as a Married Couple
  • Easier Tax Preparation and Savings on Costs
  • Savings for Families

However, it’s not all good news. Some couples may find that it is not worth it to re-file, as the Wall Street Journal recently reported. Those couples with combined six-figure incomes could find themselves placed into higher tax brackets and losing tax credits they previously qualified for. Still, it pays for couples to investigate and see how they are affected.

Lavine also told the Ithaca Journal the city is willing to work with other big employers’ in the area who are considering similar action.

The watch tower at the Auburn Correctional Facility is a far cry from Cornell's clock tower, but the two institutions have built a working relationship through CPEP.

Education during incarceration: local efforts echo Gov. Cuomo’s vision

By the time Raymond Roe was released from prison in 2008, he had been behind bars for more time than he had even been alive before being sentenced. With mounting bills, a new baby at home, and a troubled past, he committed three robberies that he would immediately come to regret. Several months later, he found out he would serve 15-41 years at the Auburn Correctional Facility.

Now, 24 years later, Roe is working as Mobile Unit Assistant for the American Red Cross. He was able to take college courses while still in prison as part of the Cornell Prison Education Program (CPEP), and now serves on its Board of Directors. The program teaches about 100 inmates each year at the Auburn and Cayuga Correctional Facilities.

Last month Governor Andrew Cuomo announced an initiative to fund college programs throughout New York State prisons. Rob Scott, the Executive Director of CPEP, applauded the plan.

“This is a game-changing initiative,” Scott said. “After two decades of depriving incarcerated adults of the opportunity to pursue post-secondary education, New York is prepared to lead by example in putting its prison classrooms back to use.”

Financing the Guilty?

However, the plan’s announcement did not come without criticism.

Lawmakers opposing the initiative point to hard-working and law-abiding citizens who are struggling to make enough money for school. In effect they are asking, why should inmates get a free education while those who have not committed a crime cannot afford it?

Currently it costs an average of $60,000 to house an inmate. Adding college education programs would cost up to an additional $5,000, which taxpayers would fund.

Governor Cuomo has argued the overall cost of housing inmates would go down in the long-term with reduced recidivism rates that the education measure would bring.

“These people need jobs when they come back to their families,” Christine Bonilha, a former volunteer of CPEP, said. She agrees the benefits of programs like CPEP also apply to the greater community.

“There’s also a lot of gang violence within prisons, but with this program inmates need to have perfect discipline to be enrolled as students, which sets them as role models while in prison, and when they return to the community,” Bonilha said.

Changing the Prisoner Perception

Cornell is not the only higher education institution getting involved with the effort. Over on South Hill, several students at Ithaca College set out to film Beyond the Wall, a short piece profiling the success of Ray Roe with CPEP.

“I really hope it can be used as a point of critical thought, and actually get people to think and talk about these issues that are really uncomfortable,” Caroline Podraza, one of the producers, said.

Across the U.S., 2.3 million people are imprisoned – more than 90 percent of them will be released sometime in the future.

“Cornell University…has seen first-hand the wider benefits to our students, their families who benefit from their academic accomplishments, and the neighborhoods that will be better, not worse, for their return,” Scott said.

What do you think? Should a statewide prison education program be implemented? Sound off in the comments section below.

As Valentine’s Day blood donations fall short, FDA ban still thorny for gays

It was more white than red that dominated Valentine’s Day this year as severe winter weather blanketed much of the U.S. with traffic-snarling snow and ice. Along with floral delivery trucks that struggled to make their rounds with red roses, the American Red Cross felt the storm’s impact too: more than 750 blood drives were cancelled, leaving at least 25,000 blood and platelet donations uncollected.

The setback is the latest in a string of blood supply shortages in recent years – with the summer of 2012 seeing the lowest level in more than a decade – further prompting LGBT advocates to ask why would-be male donors who have had gay sex are banned from donating.

Last summer, the organization Second Class Citizens hosted a “National Gay Blood Drive” event in major cities across the U.S. to draw attention to the issue.  Another drive is scheduled for July 11.

The Food and Drug Administration’s lifetime ban first went into effect in 1977 after an HIV/AIDS pandemic was first linked to gay communities. The FDA has stated that the ban would be eased “only if supported by scientific data showing that a change in policy would not present a significant and preventable risk to blood recipients.”

According to the Red Cross website, every unit of donated blood is tested for infectious disease markers, including HIV. With the current exclusion of gay males, it estimates 38 percent of the U.S. population is eligible to donate, although less than 10 percent actually do each year.

The American Medical Association voted in opposition of the ban policy in June. One of its members, William Kobler, said it was “discriminatory and not based on sound science.”

In September, at least 80 members of Congress wrote to the Department of Health and Human Services denouncing the ban as outdated and unfair to gay men who practice safe sex.

What do you think? Should the ban remain in place? Reply with your comments below; find contact information for your Congressional representatives here.

Protests during past Olympics may offer insight to Sochi’s LGBT strain

Credit: AP - In this Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014 file photo a Russian gay rights activist walks along a police line during a rally at a Moscow boulevard. When the Sochi Winter Olympics begin on Friday, Feb. 7, 2014, many will be watching to see whether Russia will enforce its law banning gay “propaganda” among minors if athletes, fans or activists wave rainbow flags or speak out in protest. The message so far has been confusing. (AP Photo/ Alexander Zemlianichenko, file)

Credit: AP – In this Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014 file photo a Russian gay rights activist walks along a police line during a rally at a Moscow boulevard. When the Sochi Winter Olympics begin on Friday, Feb. 7, 2014, many will be watching to see whether Russia will enforce its law banning gay “propaganda” among minors if athletes, fans or activists wave rainbow flags or speak out in protest. The message so far has been confusing. (AP Photo/ Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Yesterday marked the official start of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and already four gay activists have been arrested after unfurling a banner quoting the Olympic Charter’s ban on discrimination. Earlier this week, the Human Rights Campaign sent an email urging supporters to petition NBC to “devote significant primetime Olympics coverage to the LGBT crisis in Russia.”

The network will air more than 1,500 hours of coverage over the course of the Games, and while the anti-LGBT propaganda law has been getting a lot of attention in the weeks leading up to them, will the official U.S. coverage hone in on the tension? Protests are by no means unprecedented for the Olympic Games. Here’s a look at previous coverage of controversies surrounding the Games in recent years:

2008 Beijing Summer Olympics: Months before the Games even began, when the Olympic torch arrived April 9 in San Francisco, networks aired considerable coverage of protests pointing to human rights abuses by the Chinese government. The organization Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR.org) noted that CNN gave related coverage 40,000+ words that day alone.

2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics: With the United States’ neighbor, Canada, as the host country this time around, U.S. media coverage of protestors was comparatively marginal. Only nine articles appeared in the New York TimesWashington Post, and USA Today between the two weeks prior to the Opening Ceremony and the day after the Closing Ceremony. Canadian press, on the other hand, published more than eight times the number of U.S. articles, covering everything from sustainability to the presence of poverty in the shadow of millions spent on Olympics construction and security.

2012 London Summer Olympics: These Games, as with Vancouver 2010, also shared a close cultural proximity with the United States. Unlike the previous Summer Olympics in Beijing, the controversy-based coverage was relatively mild. Pre-Games coverage once again emerged, with articles like this one from the GlobalPost touting five activist groups that were likely to be ‘heard from’.

That brings us to Sochi, which, like Beijing, resides in a country that has proved politically problematic for the U.S. in the past with its Communist undertow. The world will soon see how the new LGBT narrative will play out in mainstream media; but if its anything resembling previously documented protest coverage, viewers and readers may witness the three-stage phenomenon laid out for the last Winter Olympics by FAIR.org writers Jules Boykoff and Casey Nishimura: 1) pre-Olympic stories that allow space for dissent (which has been confirmed with the plethora of LGBT segments), 2) articles appearing once the Olympics begin where media slip into the well-worn ruts of activist denunciation (i.e. traditional narratives of protesters as ‘trouble-makers’), and 3)  articles appearing toward the end of the Games that praise the police and champion the Olympics as a success. This is by no means a be-all and end-all formula, but perhaps may be used as a tool to evaluate coverage of this year’s Olympics, and subsequently validated or contradicted.

Meanwhile, a designated protest area has been set up in a village approximately seven miles from the main Olympic Park in Sochi.

More updates on protest coverage and a follow-up analysis of the Games will be posted to this blog in the upcoming weeks.

Sideshow performer sets up solo act in food truck industry

By John Vogan & Alexandra Leslie

Previously published on Premiere, Ithaca’s Art and Entertainment Publication. 

On the chilly morning of Dec. 3, steam pours from the open hatch of the Circus Truck as J.P. Vico prepares breakfast burritos for two of his regular customers. Vico’s is just one of eight food trucks in Ithaca currently dishing up mouthwatering cuisine from their mobile kitchens.

Click here to see what's cooking in Ithaca!

Click here to see what’s cooking in Ithaca!

Crepe Photo Courtesy Mark Anbinder

As the name suggests, the truck is a symbol of not only his passion for cooking, but also sideshow performing, Vico said. When it gets dark enough, he projects old black and white films showcasing circus performances for customers to enjoy while they chow down on alla vodka pasta — a ‘velvety homemade tomato cream sauce accented with vodka’ — or a seitan (gluten wheat) reuben sandwich.

Vico is left with a bad taste in his mouth, however, due to the city’s lack of a mobile vending permit policy hindering his operation. He and other truck owners have been left to negotiate with private property owners for places to set up shop. When a new building development forced him out of his original location on the corner of Seneca Street and State Route 13, he moved to the parking lot outside the Finger Lakes Beverage Center on West Green Street.

“The only reason this truck has even survived here a couple months is because the people who already knew about it from before [keep coming back],” Vico said.

Though Vico sits alone in the West Green Street parking lot, others are also caught in the food truck dilemma.

Amanda Beem-Miller, co-owner of The Good Truck, offering a Mexican-inspired menu that features seasonal and local ingredients, is one of the founding members of the Ithaca Food Truck Association, which began a year ago on Dec. 15.

“My business partner and I had spent years cooking for other people, and we really wanted to do our own thing,” she said. “This was the most economically viable way to have our own business.”

Without a permit in place, mobile vendors are barred from operating on city streets and property, with the exception of a special permitting process for The Commons.

In the meantime, The Good Truck owners, along with other food truck proprietors, worked with the city to create a pilot program that allows for vendors to operate at specific times on public property. This led to the weekly Food Truck Round Up at Thompson Park on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings.

“There’s a philosophy in business, especially in food, that the more choices there are, the more people we can get to come,” Beem-Miller said.

Mark Anbinder, a food writer and editor of 14850 Dining, agreed. He said he understands the brick and mortar restaurants’ concerns of increased competition, but thinks there is a benefit to be gained by boosting an area’s attractiveness with more variety.

“It’s also true, maybe especially in Ithaca’s neighborhoods, that ‘a rising tide lifts all boats.’ When there are attractive eateries in an area, people get used to going there for food, so for example I don’t see the Circus Truck taking away from Maxie’s and On the Street, even though they’re in the same area. I see it as one more option that makes people think of heading to the West End for food,” Anbinder said.

A vote on the pending permit proposal is planned for the Board of Public Works meeting on Dec. 9.

Hanging art: How artists get featured in Ithaca

Alice Combs “Fierce Shapes” in Waffle Frolic in Ithaca, New York.

Alice Combs “Fierce Shapes” in Waffle Frolic in Ithaca, New York.

By John Vogan & Alexandra Leslie

Previously published on Premiere, Ithaca’s Art and Entertainment Publication. 

Allison DeDominick sits down with her newly adopted black kitten, Giacomo Puccini, as Italian opera plays softly in the background. Her living room hosts an array of artwork from around the world; Italy, France and the United States. Her personal work is in the process of getting framed. After traveling to Italy, DeDominick returned to Ithaca to help other artists, like herself, blossom in a city already known for its natural beauty.

DeDominick owns her own business, ARTe, that works with non-traditional venues like cafes, restaurants, wineries and public spaces to curate art exhibits on a monthly or bi-monthly basis.

When DeDominick saw local artist Alice Combs’s work at Gimme! Coffee in October 2012, she contacted her right away.

“She’s somebody who maybe doesn’t see themselves as an artist first, but I think she should,” DeDominick said.

Combs never originally saw herself pursuing a career in art. She graduated from Cornell University in 2008 with a degree in Biology.

“I was always interested in art, I just never took it seriously,” Combs said.

The Community Arts Partnership in Ithaca is an outlet for local artists like Combs. CAP provides different services, assistance and grant opportunities to artists or art organizations, in addition to public programs supporting art in Tompkins County.

Since 1992, CAP has helped to distribute more than $2.7 million in grants and fellowships to artists, arts organizations and community projects. In 2013, CAP awarded $226,128 in arts grants. Their artist registry features 121 local and regional artists to date.

“Sometimes the artist walking through our door has years of experience but is new to town. Other times the artist is fresh out of school and exploring ways to spread his/her wings artistically,” said John Spence, Executive Director of the Community Arts Partnership. “Robin Schwartz, [CAP Program Director] can help make connections and introductions to like-minded artists.”

CAP hosts the Ithaca Art trail two weekends in October, in which local artists opened their studios to visitors and buyers. The organization also hosts two artist markets. The Ithaca Artists Market was held this summer at the Ithaca Farmers Market, and the Winter Fine Art Market takes place December 14 at the Holiday Inn on South Cayuga Street.

Additionally, the Awesome Indie Art Market took place in Downtown Ithaca December 6-8, which showcased more than 40 different artists.

“In a nutshell, we tried to bridge the gap of artists that you do not always get a chance to see and combine it with music, food and other art ideas; just a space and a chance to be creative,” said Alice Muhlback, one of the Awesome Indie Art Market’s coordinators.

Combs now attends the San Francisco Art Institute pursuing a Masters of Fine Arts degree in Painting. Combs made the decision to actively pursue art after taking two painting courses. DeDominick was instrumental in getting her series, “Fierce Shapes,” featured in Waffle Frolic until the end of the December. The piece is inspired by the way letters can occupy negative and positive spaces, made with black and red acrylic ink at a 45 degree angle.

While she was always interested in art from a young age, living in Ithaca made for making art an interest into a career, Combs noted.

“There are a lot of opportunities for showing your work in shops or galleries. It’s a pretty vibrant community for such a small town,” Combs said.

Ithaca Rolfer aids pain with practice

By John Vogan & Allie Healy

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When Sarah Robarge was 15 years old, a horse ride changed her life. That fateful day, her horse became startled and reared up, throwing her from the saddle and onto the ground before the animal fell on top of her.

The accident resulted in two back fractures in and a hip injury. On and off for the next 15 years, Robarge had to wear a back brace and tried everything from medication to surgery to massage therapy, but still suffered debilitating pain.

That is, until, she discovered Rolfing, a unique kind of massage therapy aimed at realigning the body to minimize pain and tension. Ida Rolf, a biochemist, created Rolfing in the 1930s. After completing a series of Rolfing therapy with Wells Christie in Syracuse, Robarge’s pain was gone.

Robarge completed a Ten-Series, which typically spreads one-hour sessions once a week over 10 weeks, but could be extended to progress once a month over 10 months. The first three sessions are known as superficial sessions, working the superficial layers of the fascia, also known as connective tissue.

“It just changed my life so much that it inspired me to do that, so I could help people the way that I was helped,” Robarge said.

According to the Affordable Care Act section 2706 titled “Non-Discrimination in Healthcare,” insurance issuers “shall not discriminate with respect to participation under the plan or coverage against any health care provider’s license or certification under applicable State law.” Because Robarge’s practice is licensed, Rolfing would be covered by insurance, dependent on the individuals insurance provider.

Robarge now practices as a certified Rolfer, but getting to this point was not easy. New York state requires Rolfers to be licensed as massage therapists first, and the only Rolf Institute currently in the United States operates their instruction in Colorado.

Robarge spent the first semester studying in Colorado, and then travelled to other parts of the world where the practice is more widely practiced. She lived in Malaysia for the second semester, and studied for the third semester in Bali and Indonesia.

Rolfing is more thorough than traditional massage therapy and based on discovering the source of tension-related problems, Robarge said.

“To give an example, say you have sore shoulders. If you went and saw a massage therapist, you’d go in and you’d get a shoulder rub,” she said. “Most people’s sore shoulders are caused by tension in the front of the body. If you have tension either in your chest or abdominals or your legs, you are going to be pulled forward in your gravity. It’s pulling on your back.”

Unlike the temporary relief and relaxing chemicals released in a typical massage, Rolfing aims to realign the body to help the pain dissipate all together.

Susan Winter, the Manager of Marketing at the Rolf Institute, said the practice used to be more intensive and painful. The founder, Ida Rolf, initially would patients lay on the floor instead of a table.

“We’ve learned over the years about the nervous system, you don’t need intensity, but intentionality,” said Winter, a patient of Rolfing herself. If either the patient or the Rolfer senses too much pain, attention can be placed on shallower layers of connective tissue.

Robarge’s practice, located at 409 W State Street, will have been established a year in January.

Alliance breathes new life into Collegetown

By John Vogan & Robert Rivera

Marty Johnson greets his friend and fellow alliance founder Annie Quach in his store, Uncle Marty’s Shipping Office, and soon they begin talking about the designs for the logo of their newly formed group: the Collegetown Small Business Alliance (CSBA).

The Alliance was founded this summer between Johnson, Quach — who is the general manager for Hai Hong a local Chinese restaurant — and Natalie Sweeney, owner of Natalia’s Boutique with the purpose of promoting more business in Collegetown.  Johnson says the three are good friends and wanted to form the alliance to help each other’s small businesses.

Unlike the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, which has about 100 shops and serves over 50,000 residents, the CSBA is still in its early stages and has not expanded outside of its three founding members. The DIA has been a part of Downtown Ithaca since 1997, and has helped small businesses in the area thrive through special events such as Apple Fest and Chili Fest.

A map of Collegetown, alliance businesses, and parking.

A map of Collegetown, alliance businesses, and parking.

The new group’s goal is to create events in Collegetown to promote more business in the area, through street fairs and greeting college students during orientation to show them what Collegetown has to offer, says Johnson. These future events are meant to help all businesses, whether they are part of the alliance or not, he adds.

Johnson says that the trio has reached out to other local businesses, such as Big Red Barber Shop, Proper Puss, Stella’s Rulloff’s Restaurant and Nail Candy. “It’s really grass-roots right now.  We’re just bringing up the discussion before a formal invitation goes out, but everyone we’ve talked to are very much excited and say it can only be positive for the area,” says Johnson.

Matthew Taylor, general manager for Stella’s agrees that the alliance would be beneficial to his restaurant.  He says he is awaiting further news about the CSBA.

Quach, who was born and raised in Ithaca, and spent much of her childhood growing up in Collegetown says the area is declining in terms of business flow, which is why she felt there was a need for the Alliance.

One of the problems many stores in Collegetown are facing is foreclosure due to the high cost of rent.  Sweeney says she pays $2000 each month for her 1,010 square-foot store.  Local realtor Jeff Goodmark says that the average price of retail rental in Collegetown is three times as much as other area in Ithaca, placing a strain on revenue.

Johnson and the alliance have also talked briefly to Cornell University about planning events with the college for their summer program.  The CSBA hopes Cornell will consider housing students closer to Collegetown during summer sessions to make it easier for them to shop there. The move could potentially create new patronage during  the slow months when most students leave for summer break.

Gabrielle Cramer, a Cornell student who has lived in Collegetown for the past two years thinks the alliance would be a step in the right direction for students. She says it would be nice to have more options for students to do activities over the weekends, and the alliance would help.

“There are a few different bars that closed down. It’s not that Collegetown is not bumping, but its transitioning,” says Cramer, who adds that the alliance can help with this transitioning period.

Johnson also publishes a blog on his company website, where further updates for the alliance’s progress can be found.

Airbnb offers unique lodging experience for Ithaca visitors

By John Vogan & Justine Chun

When Lisa Carrier-Titti and her wife Nicole decided to open their spare room to guests, they were not expecting a cultural experience.

“We met women from Israel, who just heard about Ithaca in an article and they wanted to come,” Carrier-Titti said.  “One of the women was kosher and conservative…we made sure that we had all products here that were kosher, and she wasn’t allowed to use any electricity from sundown Friday to Saturday, so we were able to come in and turn the lights…and coffee pot on for her.  That’s not something I had ever experienced before.”

Carrier-Titti is not the only resident in Ithaca to open her home to visitors.  She began listing in June after a friend told her about Airbnb, a website that lets people find accommodations around the world. More than 150 properties are listed in the greater Ithaca area.

The website was founded in August 2008 and markets itself as a trusted community marketplace for people to list, discover and book unique accommodations. With over 8 million users, Airbnb has accommodations in more than 33 thousand cities and 192 countries worldwide. The site is a way for people to find a room, apartment, or even just a couch to sleep on while traveling.

Carrier-Titti believes some listings on Airbnb have qualities that traditional bed and breakfasts don’t always offer.

“There is a niche to be filled, where some people aren’t looking for the kitschy, lacey Victorian home,” she explained.  “The people that find us, they want something that’s downtown, they want something that’s walkable, on the bus route, they want something that’s a little bit private.”

Airbnb users can also review the places they stay following the reservation. Comforts of Home has a 5-star average rating across 25 reviews. One response from “Patricia” of Vermont said: “Lisa & Nicole have designed this space to absolutely maximize both elegance and functionality…with charm and verve.”

Airbnb Ithaca

Jennifer Dotson, an Airbnb enthusiast, has found the site to be very reliable. Dotson serves on the first board for the City of Ithaca common council and finds herself frequently traveling to other cities to attend conferences.

“I’d rather save a little money and stay at a place where I might get to know someone local,” Dotson said.

With Airbnb offering a range of price points for accommodations – as cheap as $30 per night for a room to $1079 for an entire 14-room house – the question of occupancy tax has come up. Tompkins County imposes a three percent county occupancy, or room, tax. Registered accommodations collect this and submit it to the county on a quarterly schedule. The county is now asking all unregistered accommodations to pay the tax.

Lynette Scofield, Innkeeper of the William Henry Miller Inn in Ithaca, believes that the unregistered Airbnb hosts should contribute through such a tax.

“The room tax does so much for this area as far as beautification, signage, new programs, that the tax dollars that our guests pay and write a check for makes such a difference in the community,” said Scofield.

But not everyone in Ithaca supports Airbnb. De Murphy, the president of Bed & Breakfast Association of Greater Ithaca (BBGI), who declined to speak with Ithaca Week, was quoted in the Ithaca Times saying that: “Travelers have no idea what they are getting into [when they book rooms using Airbnb].  I’ve heard horror stories from guests. They thought they were getting a room and they got a couch, or the place was just dirty.”

For people like Carrier-Titti and her wife, who do pay the three percent room tax, Airbnb is a way to offer guests a nice place to stay while also making a little extra money for retirement.

“Airbnb has been very accommodating to us as hosts,” Carrier-Titti said. “They helped us set up a site, they help us with payment systems…very easy to do.”