Ithaca, N.Y. — Mayor Svante Myrick presented his proposed budget for 2015 to Ithaca’s Common Council on Wednesday.
The mayor highlighted two major priorities in his budget — which must go through council — as important investments in a press briefing this afternoon.
They are: 1) More cops, and 2) Paving the streets.
1 — More cops
Myrick, who previously cut the number of Ithaca police officers from 66 to 60, is hoping to regrow the force to 68 officers. That takes money.
Two officers will join a new Ithaca police “Community Action Team,” which was part of the mayor’s previously released set of reforms for the Ithaca Police Department.
Myrick had planned on only raising the number of cops to 66. But the events of Aug. 10 — in which an Ithaca police sergeant pulled his weapon on two teens, prompting protests — spurred the mayor to continue to grow the force. Myrick said the events in Ferguson, Missouri, were also a factor in his decision.
A downtown outreach worker will also be added to the police department’s budget.
“We think this will create a safer city,” Myrick said, “Now that we have more officers, they can do more community policing.”
The city will also be spending thousands annually for maintenance costs for body cameras for Ithaca police. That’s a new expense.
Given that he cut the department before regrowing it, “Some folks may say, ‘Why didn’t you just leave the police department alone?,’ ” Myrick said.
Myrick gave 3 explanations for the decision to shrink and grow the department rather than keeping it unchanged:
A — There are now more cops on the street and fewer behind desks, according to the mayor.
“We were administratively heavy,” Myrick said.
B — The city is in a better fiscal place now and is more able to afford the officers it couldn’t a short few years ago.
C — In the last two years, Myrick said, the reductions have helped save millions of dollars.
2 — Paving the streets
Mayor Myrick said last year’s winter dealt a severe blow to Ithaca’s roads.
“The Farmers’ Almanac called it the worst winter in 100 years,” Myrick said, adding that because of storms and “super cold temperatures the roads took a worse beating than usual, and we couldn’t keep up.”
The mayor pledged to “pave more streets than we have in a very, very long time.”
He said the Department of Public Works would be changing what it does by having its workers focus on fixing the streets to the exclusion of sidewalks.
The sidewalk work will be done by an outside contractor, the mayor said. Five people in DPW will be moved from doing sidewalk work to working on the city’s streets.
“In fact, we think we’re going to have so many hands and bodies on the street that we’re going to borrow actually for $200,000 worth of asphalt,” Myrick said.
Those contractors amount to a major new cost for the city, according to the mayor.
A few other points from the mayor’s press briefing:
— Most city departments will not see significant changes to their staffing levels or budgets.
— Myrick expects sales tax revenue to increase by about 2 percent.
— The mayor said the city is hoping to spend money on a storm water engineer to study creek walls after the “ice jams” from last winter.
“We have not had ice jams in a generation,” Myrick said. “Our hope is we do not face the same set of conditions that caused the ice jam.”
— The mayor said it would be going to the town of Ithaca to discuss paying for parks.
— The water rate for taxpayers will go up 10 percent, according to Myrick.
“That’s not good news,” he said, noting that they also increased 10 percent last year.
Myrick said the federal government had mandated that the city improve the quality of its drinking water, leading Ithaca to build a new water treatment plant.
— The mayor’s salary is staying the same.
— Myrick said he looks forward to working with Cornell’s next president, Elizabeth Garrett, about the university’s Memorandum of Understanding.
“No, I didn’t shake her down yesterday,” Myrick joked in response to a question.
Myrick said the city and Cornell have done productive things together. But he hopes that Garrett will agree to pay more under the MOU.
“I’m hopeful the next administration will see more clearly how beneficial a higher contribution can be to the university,” Myrick said.
— The budget proposes $21.3 million in spending.