ITHACA, N.Y. -- In a year that saw the economy tanked by the COVID-19 pandemic, securing funding for the community outreach workers in Ithaca was a concern. The program is operated and supported by Family & Children's Service of Ithaca.
At last month’s Downtown Ithaca Alliance (DIA) meeting there was even a presentation about the loss of funding for the positions, which focus on providing disadvantaged populations with services that could help them either short- or long-term. This comes at a time when movements to reallocate funding from police departments to social services is at an all-time high.
The two positions are funded by five different groups — the City of Ithaca, Tompkins County, DIA and Ithaca Renting. At the DIA meeting, it was stated that the county would not be contributing the $60,000 they contributed last year. For the 2020 fiscal year, the county had $20,000 included for the position in its base (target) budget, plus an over target request (OTR) for an additional $25,000. Then, another OTR was made for an extra $15,000. This was all included in the recommended budget created by County Administrator Jason Molino.
For the 2021 fiscal year, Molino will not be requesting the OTR money for the position, and the $20,000 is not included in the base budget.
“It’s been a successful program, and really it just came down to a variety of different issues in the budget,” Molino said. “Including not knowing yet what the city and DIA are going to do with their funding share.”
According to Gary Ferguson, executive director of the DIA, the city and DIA will both commit to their funding for 2021.
However, this does not mean the program won’t still get its funding, according to Tompkins County legislator Anna Kelles. She echoed Molino, and said that due to budget constraints, Molino couldn’t include the money in the base budget and risk the other parties not contributing. But, she explained, the legislature ultimately decides the budget, and legislators can recommend their own OTR that then has to be approved by the majority..
“I think it is an extremely important program and extremely successful, and I have personally put in an OTR for it a week or two ago,” she said.
Requests that are approved for the budget are paid for through the county’s reserve, meaning the county is careful with what it approves. Kelles said the legislature has received much community feedback expressing the importance and success of the program, and while she said she can’t speak for her colleagues and can’t guarantee anything, the benefit of the program has not gone unnoticed.
“I think there’s a recognition that it has been an effective program,” she said. “Unequivocally I am a supporter of this program. I think there’s a general consensus, and I am positive about the outlook for this program.”
Approval, or denial, for the OTR will not come until the county legislature votes on the budget later this month.