The Ithaca Common Council voted to accept a $640,015 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency at its meeting Wednesday. The grant will fund four new firefighter positions through the next two years.
“This is an opportunity for us to [take] an incremental, small step forward, increasing our staffing,” said Tom Parsons B.S. ’82, Ithaca’s fire chief. “Somebody else can pay for it for a little while.”
Parsons stressed that the fire department must continue to grow in order to properly service Ithaca’s burgeoning population.
“I don’t see anything but our community continuing to grow for the next 10 years,” he said. “As communities grow, the demands for our services continue to go up. More people bring more business.”
Several alderpeople agreed that increasing staffing for the fire department is essential.
“We don’t have the adequate staffing that is appropriate to serve different stations,” said alderperson Cynthia Brock (D-1st Ward). Alderperson Donna Fleming MBA ’89 (D-3rd Ward) added that there is “plenty of need” for these four additional people.
Although eventually voting to accept the grant, Brock urged caution in accepting a gift which could lead to more room for inefficiency in the council’s budget.
“I’m always weary of accepting gifts like this toward operational costs,” Brock said. “If we’re not paying for [this] ourselves because we’re getting a gift, we will spend that money elsewhere and then at the end of the term, we are looking at a $350,000 impact on the general budget that wasn’t there before because we had this grant [that has] now gone away.”
The council also considered a proposal to include “participatory budgeting” in the city’s budget, which would designate funds to community projects that people in and around Ithaca would vote to enact.
Participatory budgeting is designed to include members of communities who generally do not have a democratic voice, including undocumented immigrants, other marginalized communities and youth, according to representatives of Ithaca’s Multicultural Resource Center. Residents of towns surrounding Ithaca would also be able to partake in the widely inclusive voting process.
Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 praised participatory budgeting for its vision but raised a “philosophical issue” with its potentially overinclusive voting constituency.
“The people who live in Ithaca already make less money and pay more in taxes than the people surrounding them,” Myrick said. “People in Cayuga Heights could flood the polls with where they think the money should be spent, and [the people of Ithaca] would be spending it.”
Myrick explained that participatory budgeting is not “impossible” but that the MRC must consider the long-term effects.
Alderperson Deb Mohlenhoff (D-5th Ward) added that the city was not in an appropriate position financially to incorporate participatory budgeting at this time.
“Until we have extra piles of [money] sitting around, we might have some trouble with that,” she said. “Let’s figure out other ways to work together.”
The council also unanimously passed a resolution to install a privately funded mural on the surface of the Cayuga Waterfront Trail. The glow-in-the-dark mural features a dandelion and the Ithaca Festival slogan, according to city documents.
The next Ithaca Common Council meeting will take place at City Hall on Nov. 2.