The Ithaca Common Council gave Ithaca Police Chief Pete Tyler a birthday cupcake, but no definitive answer to his request for two new officers during the first of three public hearings on the city’s 2019 budget plan from Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 Thursday night.
At the meeting, Tyler, along with officials from the Fire Department and Public Information and Technology Office, had the chance to discuss the city’s nearly $76 million budget’s effect on their departments.
As proposed, the 2019 budget includes no funds to hire new officers for the Ithaca Police Department. Though the department currently holds 69 staff positions, their current operational staff is 56 due to officers on various forms of temporary leave and four still in academy training, which is putting major stress on the department according to Tyler.
“As chief, I’ve seen a steady increase in the amount of calls and what appears to be stress on our officers,” Tyler said. “There is a breaking point. I’ve been an officer with the city of Ithaca Police department for 27 years, and in my humble opinion we are at that breaking point.”
Some common council members, including alderperson Laura Lewis (D-5th Ward) and alderperson Joseph Murtagh (D-2nd Ward), expressed support for the police force, but noted the difficulty of finding space in the budget for two additional officers.
“There’s never been a question that the department is understaffed, the challenge that we face is that the cost continues to increase,” Murtagh said. “I don’t know if I would support adding two officers per year for five year, that’s extremely costly, but I do think that we really need to have a critical conversation at this time.”
Following IPD, city clerk Julie Holcomb discussed the need for more funding for the Public Information and Technology office, which receives a disproportionate amount of its information requests from IPD, according to documents presented at the meeting.
“We right now have one person that works mainly on all of our help desk calls. Our other two people are managing the network, the phone systems, the website. There are a million different tasks, and there’s just not enough of us to go around,” Holcomb said.
Like Tyler, Ithaca Fire Chief Tom Parsons cited officer burnout and a department stretched too thin. The fire department will receive $159,678 for the last payment of a grant to train SAFER firefighters, approved last year according to the budget narrative, but Parsons announced that he would defer asking to hire a new deputy fire chief until next year to avoid going over the one percent departmental funding increase cap.
“Next year I’m gonna come and say I need some help with a deputy chief … I didn’t fill it last year, we didn’t fill it this year, but next year we really need to fill it and we need to fund it for a whole year,” Parsons said.
The next meeting in the budget planning series is set for Wednesday, Oct. 17, and will include discussion of Youth Services, the city Attorney’s office, Planning, Building and Development and Community Services.