October 23, 2012

Editorial: A Pragmatic Budget

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Ithaca is facing a $3 million deficit this year, and Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 has been struggling to balance the budget. He recently proposed to leave positions in the Ithaca Police department vacant as current officers retire, along with other proposals to raise revenue and reduce costs. Filling a three million dollar deficit takes leadership and hard decisions. We commend the mayor’s attempt to make strategic budget cuts — even if they are not always politically popular — and make the city sustainable in the long term.

There are currently 73 officers in the department, according to IPD’s website, and Myrick’s plan would reduce the force by approximately nine using retirement incentives. Although this month there was a bomb scare in the Commons and one Ithaca police officer was shot on Oct. 11 by a fleeing suspect, Ithaca was also recently ranked the most secure small town in America by Farmers Insurance due to factors such as crime statistics, extreme weather, housing depreciation, foreclosures, air quality, life expectancy, terrorist threats and job losses. Looking at statistics on crime from the IPD website, the annual number of crimes has not increased since 2008, the first year for which data was available.

Other solutions that the mayor has proposed for the budget include consolidating fire and building inspections. Additionally, Myrick is proposing merging other city government departments, like the Chamberlain’s Office and the Controller’s Office, into a new finance department. Consolidating these positions allows the city to maintain current levels of service while reducing costs. Significantly, these consolidations and cuts are balanced by a moderate increase in property taxes.

It is admirable that the mayor is not letting emotional appeals stand in the way of well-reasoned arguments. Instead of ignoring the burgeoning costs of the police department for the sake of political popularity, Myrick is taking a pragmatic approach that aligns Ithaca’s crime rate realities with its expenditures. Over the course of 12 years, according to Myrick, the police budget has increased by $5 million, and this increase cannot go without scrutiny.

In defense of maintaining the current number of positions, the police department cited data that says calls for help are higher than ever, employing the statistic that in 1990, the IPD received 14,000 calls for help and, in 2011, received 21,000. But the use of these statistics is disingenuous. As more and more Americans carry cell phones, the number of calls is bound to increase, independent of the rate of actual crime.

In order for the city to make the appropriate decisions with regard to its budget, we need a dispassionate approach that looks at multiple factors and maximizes the overall benefits to the city. We feel that the mayor is approaching this issue pragmatically and appropriately, and we urge the Common Council to approve the mayor’s budget.

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