The Tompkins County Public Safety Committee (TCPSC) and the City of Ithaca Planning and Economic Development Committee (PEDC) held a special joint meeting on May 29 to discuss the feasibility of housing the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office and the Ithaca Police Department under one roof.
TCPSC Chairman Rich John and PEDC Chairman Seph Murtagh were glad to see the process that brought this conversation to this point. The site that is currently under consideration would be located at 100 Commercial Ave. off of Elmira Road (State Route 13). Co-locating the two forces has long been a priority for the City of Ithaca, especially as the condition of its IPD headquarters has deteriorated and the city’s focus has shifted towards density development. Meanwhile, the county has been more lukewarm on the idea.
Members of the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office had some misgivings about the move due to the largest part of the sheriff’s operation, the jail, being located in Lansing. While a new jail is being considered as a part of the new site, Tompkins County Sheriff Derek Osborne saw this as a missing piece of the discussion from the beginning.
“I’m all for shared services and collaboration and things like that, but I don’t think it should come at the expense of dividing my own operations—that’s a big thing,” Osborne said. “It’s got nothing to do with IPD, per se, but to share with them at the expense of dividing my largest division from my road patrol and civil division just doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. And that’s not to say I don’t feel strongly either way about where a jail would be located. Part of the discussion, too, is what we can do at our current site to rehab our existing building, possibly.”
As expressed in the meeting, many city officials are eager to see this go forward, with many feeling the plan works well, though agreeing that a study about a new jail should be done. Osborne’s sentiments were echoed, if not magnified, by Tompkins County Legislator Deborah Dawson, who has taken issue with the plan. She thinks there are far more benefits for co-location for the city than for the county.
“I don’t know that [county administration has] solicited enough input privately, where people can speak their mind and not be concerned about hurting someone’s feelings or being quoted about how they feel about co-locating with the Ithaca Police Department,” Dawson said. “Sheriff Osborne has had about a year to get his department in good order and working under new management and it’s going really well. Things at the IPD are not as happy. It’s a different culture. You’re constantly seeing things in the local media that suggest that the IPD and city administration and government are fighting.”
Dawson also noted that IPD has said they will potentially move ahead with a new facility regardless of the co-location debate’s outcome. Officials at the meeting from both sides also expressed concerns about longer response times for county officers to get to Lansing, Dryden, or other points farther away from Ithaca. Osborne acknowledged the increase in drive times but he knew that would happen since Ithaca is in a central part of Tompkins County.
Some of her other comments about the site dealt with the lack of other sites being considered by the city. Dawson has some familiarity with the site, as it was considered for use by another county agency. She said the Commercial Avenue site was chosen in part because the property to the north was large enough to accommodate the potential new jail construction.
“I’m familiar with that property to the north because as a member of the TCAT Board, we looked at city-owned property in that area to relocate the TCAT facility,” Dawson said. “It’s quite clear that because that’s in that swampy area and in the floodplain/inlet alley, the cost of constructing something there is considerably higher than in other areas of the city and the county.”
Other county and city officials are fine with the proposal, but proposed a study for the new jail be completed before they vote on a drafted resolution supporting the measure. The drafted resolution will be brought before both PEDC and TCPSC at their June meetings, with the resolution going before Common Council and the Tompkins County Legislature in July.