ITHACA, NY – What will law enforcement in Tompkins County look like 20 years from now?

After a contested vote in March, Tompkins County is moving forward with a $50,000 state grant-funded study investigating the possibility of consolidating county and city law enforcement. Such a consolidation could save the county $450,000 a year, according to initial projections.

Last week, County Administrator Joe Mareane updated the Tompkins County Legislature on the consolidation study.

Any action toward such a consolidation is still a long way off. Currently, the County is drafting a Request for Proposals (RFP) to solicit a consultant. The consultant would perform a cost-to-benefit analysis of the options and present a report detailing the pros and cons of consolidation.

During his report, Mareane outlined the options:

The first option would be to do nothing. It may turn out that the city, the county or both decide that consolidation does not work in their best interests.

Option two would be a “functional consolidation.” With this option, the focus would be on identifying police functions that could be centralized, such as training and certain investigations.

The final option would be a full consolidation, or merger. “A single entity doing the work that’s now done by multiple departments,” as Mareane put it. Full consolidation could be implemented in two different ways.

The first approach to full consolidation would be a slow, “attrition-based” model, where retiring officers from the individual agencies would be gradually replaced by officers of the new county-wide agency.

The other approach for full consolidation would be a more immediate solution, that would dissolve the current departments and replace them with a single county-wide entity.

Seeking public input

When the Legislature voted in March to move ahead with the consolidation study, public input was a primary concern for several legislators. That has not changed.

Mareane said during his report that there will be ample opportunity for public comment while the consultant is drafting its report. The committee working on the consolidation also wanted to give the public an opportunity to comment on the RFP before it was finalized.

The draft RFP will be included in the agenda for the July 5 Tompkins County Legislature meeting. Mareane said that while the original plan was to have the RFP finished by the end of June, delaying it so that the public could comment would not be a problem.

Some legislators remained concerned with the limited time frame for feedback on the RFP.

“I’m interested in the public have as much opportunity as possible to be a part of this process from the get-go, because that is something that they’ve asked for,” said Legislator Leslyn McBean-Clairborne. “I hope that we can honor that because this could potentially, be a major change… I don’t want people to feel like we’re just trying to railroad this through without them having solid input.”

McBean-Clairborne, along with Legislator Martha Robertson, expressed concern that the City of Ithaca currently does not have plans for a public comment prior to the RFP approval.

“I think that, given the level of interest that we heard from members of the public when we first started talking about this, and concern and frankly distrust of the process, that we’re asking for trouble if we don’t do this in a totally transparent way, with every opportunity for input,” said Legislator Carol Chock.

The legislators encouraged the public to comment on the draft RFP during the July 5 meeting. The draft RFP will be available as part of the agenda packet for that meeting. It is not available at the time of this writing.

The consolidation study may also be discussed again at a special session of the Public Safety Committee prior to the July 5 meeting, though no such meeting has been scheduled at this time.

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.