ITHACA, NY -- Ithaca’s Common Council continued to work through the 2022 budget at its meetings on Oct. 13 and Oct. 14. The budget meetings give the public a chance to speak as well as gives Council members the chance to speak to department heads about requests.
Fire Chief Tom Parsons requested funding to replace two structures at the fire training center. Parsons said the burn building and rope tower have both reached the end of their useful lives, though the rope structure could potentially get a few more years with much maintenance.
“The money requested is to start studying new structures to replace these two, and also to look at other locations where we might be able to put a new training structure,” he said. He also noted that this was a capital funding request, and mayor Svante Myrick said it just hadn’t snuck on to the recommended list.
Council member Cynthia Brock said it seemed like a good project and she would be eager to see the location moved away from the waterfront. Parsons agreed there could be a better location, but did point out that there are no fire retardants or any other hazardous materials used that could run into the water.
Parsons also explained to Council that there are several Fire Department vehicles that need to be replaced.
“We had been separating them out over years through the operating budget, but there were several years back in the mid-teens where we could not afford to replace vehicles,” he said. “In the last couple years we’ve been trying to get caught up. We’re trying to keep the process going.”
One of the new vehicles would be a fully electric pick-up truck, the department’s first venture into an all electric vehicle.
“We would use it in some support roles in emergency response,” Parsons explained.
He said there are no real electric vehicles designed for emergency services, but that this model of pick-up, made by Ford, would support the department’s needs. Parsons added the department currently has three hybrids, and the fire station has emergency back-up generators with enough capacity to charge the electrical vehicles in the case of an electrical outage.
Next up in emergency services, Acting Police Chief John Joly requested the addition of two police officer positions to help bolster Ithaca Police Department’s staffing numbers. He noted that there are currently three open positions the department is working to fill, and these two would make five. There are seven officers who will be eligible to retire next year, and there are currently six officers on long-term injuries, two on long-term military deployment, one out on leave for a year, two who were injured off duty and are unable to work, and one who is out for another month of parental leave. That means of the 67 funded positions, 18 are currently vacant or on-leave.
“To say we are short [on personnel] is not encapsulating the stress right now,” Holy said.
He also requested money for transfer bonuses to encourage lateral transfers to the department. That would speed up the availability of new employees, since when the department hires a new police officer that person has to wait for the regional police academy to begin, which is a six-month commitment, plus four months of field training.
“That’s quite a long time to be paying salary without impact,” Joly said. “If we can entice lateral transfers, the training is cut down to 10 weeks. Along with that, we’d save the costs of salary and benefits for the extended time the officer was in training.”
Joly said the number he has in mind is $10,000 per lateral transfer.
Council members were overall supportive of the new positions and transfer incentives, and noted that there were state requirements and processes that were hindering the department’s ability to hire. Joly noted the earliest Tompkins County could get a Civil Service test is in May 2022.
“I would like to see a change, a revision of New York State Civil Service Law,” Alderperson Donna Fleming said. “I would urge our mayor, and all mayors, to put pressure on the powers that be in Albany. They have to see how stupid and antiquated this is. There’s a rule that Tompkins County can’t go to Onondaga to take the test? That’s so stupid, it’s the same test. That really needs to be changed.”
Myrick said he would reach out to his colleagues to pursue the matter.