ITHACA, N.Y. — The City of Ithaca is looking for feedback from members of the Ithaca community regarding the city’s budget for 2021.

The city has released a budget basics pamphlet to familiarize residents with the budget process and priorities before sharing their input for the 2021 budget. Mayor Svante Myrick will spend the summer months developing the budget, which will be presented to the City of Ithaca Common Council in October 2020 and will be voted on at the November 2020 meeting.

Based on the projected losses for the 2020 budget, the city is expecting a 20% loss of revenue, leaving a $13 million dollar gap. Earlier in June, the city announced a reduction of services moving into the summer months as a result of the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The majority of these cuts impacted youth services and community programs. Members of the community have also expressed wishes to defund the Ithaca Police Department, a conversation that has come up in town halls for the Democratic primary and at recent protests against police brutality. 

“The preparation of the 2021 budget will be more challenging than ever due to the historic decrease in revenue as a result of the financial impacts of the Covid19 pandemic,” a release from the city stated. “We are also aware that the public has expressed an overwhelming interest in providing feedback on funding allocations to our Police Department, Youth Services and other community-focused programs.”

From 2012 to 2020, there has been a 1.4% average annualized increase to police funding, a 4.8% increase to the Greater Ithaca Activities Center and a 2.4% increase to the Ithaca Youth Bureau.

The city’s total budget has continuously increased over the last few years, with a spike for the 2020 budget. In 2017, the general fund was $55,479,921; in 2018 it was $57,519,021 (a 3.7% increase); in 2019 it was $59,607,804 (a 3.6% increase); and in 2020 it was $62,700,250 (a 5.2% increase).

2020 Budget Basics

The 2020 budget was passed before the economic outfall of the pandemic. The 2020 General Fund was approximately $63 million. The majority of the city’s revenue came from property taxes (39%), sales tax (25%) and local revenue (21%), followed by state aid (6%) and parking (5%).

72% of the city’s expenses based on the passed 2020 budget was spent on staff and benefits, followed by debt service (12%), parts, fuel and equipment (6%), contracts (5%) and other expenses (5%).

The city said its priorities for the 2020 budget were streets and sidewalks, public safety and youth programming.

The city budgeted approximately $18 million (30%) on the Department of Public Works, which is the largest department in the city. DPW is responsible for project management of construction projects, street and sidewalk work and water and sewer services. Approximately $13 million (20%) was allocated to the IPD, and approximately $11 million (18%) was allocated to the Ithaca Fire Department. The Ithaca Youth Bureau was to get approximately $5 million, followed by planning/building and unallocated funds, which are primarily the retiree health insurance fund (both approximately $4 million). GIAC was to get approximately $3 million, which was an increase from previous years. Finance, information technology, human resources, the attorney, the mayor and the common council all accounted for less than $3 million, or 10%, each.

Ithaca Police Department

The total IPD budget has fluctuated over the past few years. In 2018, the IPD budget was $12,706,884. In 2019, it was $12,496,043 and in 2020, it was $12,775,722.

There are 69 funded positions in the IPD, not including admin and support staff. In 2020, the city has removed six police officer positions from the City Budget, which is a 10% reduction of the available force. SWAT is funded jointly through the city and Tompkins County. The city pays $57,000 for operations and $20,000 in debt service for the SWAT vehicle.

In 2020, the majority of the total spending for the IPD went to benefits ($5,274,090, or 41% of the IPD budget) and police staff ($5,171,279, or 40% of the IPD budget). $924,530 goes to Administration and Programs, which includes equipment maintenance and parts ($361,130), clothing ($140,000), gas ($105,000) and training ($70,000), as well as phone, utilities and general supplies.

$800,000 goes toward overtime, $377,059 goes toward administrative staff and $27,000 goes toward equipment.

Youth and Community Programs

The 2020 budget accounted for $9,765,414 spent on youth and community programs, which was 13% of the total General Fund.

The budget allocated $5,038,067 to youth programs, $2,813,854 to GIAC and $151,789 to the Southside Community Center.

$1,449,276 went to forestry, including city parks, fields, pavilions, rink and trees, and $326,408 for the golf course.

The city increased the number of outreach workers from one to two, bringing the outreach budget to $60,000. Outreach is jointly funded with the county, the Downtown Ithaca Alliance and Cayuga Medical Center.

The city also budgeted $191,105 in expenses for community programs like the REACH project, a harm reduction medical practice; Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD); Mental Health Court; My Brother’s Keeper, a peer mentor program for local youth and young men of color; and community outreach, as well as adding new staff for work involving the Green New Deal. REACH, LEAD, the Mental Health Court and community outreach are run by agencies outside of the city or rely on an outside agency to operate. Over three years, the city has spent $638,161 on these programs.

Community Feedback

The survey to submit feedback can be found at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/COI2021budget

The survey asks what percentage of the budget should be allocated to each department. It also asks how much more residents would be willing to pay in property taxes or rent. A 1% increase in taxes equates to approximately $244,500 in revenue for the city.

The survey also poses a number of options for balancing the budget, including increasing property taxes, reducing the level of city services, increasing user fees for city services for services that currently have fees, introducing new fees for city services that do not currently have fees — like entry to parks, rescue from gorges and notary services — or increasing fines for violations.

Respondents can also provide suggestions for efficiencies, reduction in services, cost savings or generating revenue.

The city has stated that there will be other opportunities for residents to engage with the budget process as well.

Madison Fernandez

Madison Fernandez is a contributing reporter at the Ithaca Voice. You can reach her by email at mfernandez@ithacavoice.com.