It has been a heated debate from the start. Now town leaders are weighing in on the city of Ithaca's fire department budget. Our Tamara Lindstrom tells us why the Ithaca Town Supervisor said they can no longer pay for city fire coverage.
ITHACA, N.Y. -- As the city of Ithaca debates over the budget for its fire department, another leader is weighing in.
"Almost half of the money we raise through property taxes goes to one department, and that's the city fire department. And that's $3.1 million. And we can't afford it anymore," explained Herb Engman, Ithaca Town Supervisor.
The town of Ithaca surrounds the city, and pays for fire coverage. But, town leaders are struggling with their own budget, looking to replace aging infrastructure, meet unfunded state mandates, and the rising costs of retirement and healthcare.
"So, those are the driving forces that are just taking our money away, in effect," noted Engman.
Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick proposed to cut the fire department's budget by eliminating four positions. But, firefighters fought back, pointing out their numbers are already below national safety recommendations. So, the common council agreed to bring back two positions.
Engman noted, "We pay a third of the budget of the fire department. So, even if it's only $150,000, that means we pay $50,000 of it. We did not put that money in our budget because we thought the city was going to be serious about making those cuts. And we don't have the money."
Now, the town is looking at other options, either contracting with different municipalities for fire service, or even starting a department of their own.
"We do have options. None of them are easy, none of them are cheap. But, it would be a lot cheaper than $3.1 million per year," added Engman.