ITHACA, N.Y. – For Ithaca Police Chief Pete Tyler’s 50th birthday, Common Council gave him cupcakes. They did not, however, agree to give him two additional sworn officers. Thursday’s budget meeting left unanswered the question of whether police will see a staffing increase.

The 2019 Mayor’s Recommended Budget includes about $264,000 in funding increases for police compared to 2018. That increase would go primarily toward overtime pay and covering the rising cost of benefits. The proposed budget would not increase police staffing.

Related: Ithaca budget breakdown: Where are your property taxes going?

Chief Tyler has formally requested $148,140 in additional funds to hire two new officers. Along with Deputy Chiefs Vincent Monticello and Dennis Nayor, he presented a case to council for increasing staffing.

“At a certain point, you reach a breaking point,” Tyler said. “In my humble opinion, we’re at that breaking point.”

Tyler said from 2015 to 2017 the department saw a 24 percent increase in calls for service, but no increase in staff. The 2019 proposal funds 66 sworn officers, the same number as 2015. Tyler said that with officers out on parental, disability, military and training leave, “our number looks more like 56.”

Monticello echoed Tyler’s concerns about understaffed shifts, describing how thin officers are stretched when multiple calls for service come in. “Follow up investigations and crimes take a lot of resources,” he said.

Nayor, who recently joined the department and has previously served as police chief in Oneonta, presented a report on staffing levels across departments. He said that given increases in Ithaca’s population, its large student population and its relatively high population density, the current number of officers is too low.

Mayor Svante Myrick and council members questioned several pieces of Nayor’s analysis. For instance, Nayor claimed crime increases as population density increases, based on averages across New York state. “Does that include the Adirondacks?” Myrick asked, before quipping about bears committing crimes.

Nayor compared Ithaca’s officer-to-resident ratio to New York City, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Albany, Syracuse and Binghamton. Council member Graham Kerslick asked for comparisons to cities closer to Ithaca’s size.

Across the board, council members applauded the work of the police department. They are split, however, on whether the benefits of adding two officers justify the costs.

Alderperson George McGonigal said, “We’re proud of IPD, truly, you make a strong case. But we’re between a rock and a hard place, because these are expensive positions and the tax rate in the city is already high.”

Seph Murtagh and Laura Lewis both indicated support for the department’s request.

“I’m inclined to support this even though I know it is a very expensive decision,” Murtagh said. “There’s never been any question that the department is understaffed … The issue is that the costs continue to increase.”

Lewis said, “I am also inclined to be supportive of adding the two officers in the 2019 budget,” citing concerns about the safety of officers asked to work significant overtime.

The majority of council members did not take positions for or against the proposal during the discussion. They asked for additional data from the police department and agreed to weigh the question alongside requests from other city departments.

Common Council will continue to debate and amend the 2019 budget proposal until Nov. 7, when they will vote to approve a final version.

Additional public hearings will take place on Oct. 24 and Nov. 7 at 6 p.m. in Common Council Chambers, 3rd Floor, City Hall, 108 E. Green Street, Ithaca. For a full schedule of departmental budget discussions, see the city’s budget website.

Devon Magliozzi

Devon Magliozzi is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at dmagliozzi@ithacavoice.com or 607-391-0328.