Ithaca could cut funding from several long-vacant police officer positions

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Ithaca's Police Department has made some hires this past year, but they did not outpace resignations and retirements. (Megan Zerez/WSKG)

The City of Ithaca may temporarily cut funding from seven vacant police officer positions in next year’s budget. 

There are currently 15 police officer positions that are funded but unfilled, some for over a year. When the city funds a police officer position, it must budget for 10 years of salary for that officer.

Acting Mayor Laura Lewis emphasized that no current police officers would lose their jobs. But she said until the police department can fill those long-vacant positions, the money is needed elsewhere. 

“I do not want to tie up those funds that are desperately needed in other areas in our budget,” Lewis said.

Ithaca, like other local and state governments, is gradually running out of federal COVID-19 relief money, which could make it more challenging to balance the 2023 budget.

Lewis said given the current job market, she thinks it’s unrealistic for the police department to fill all 15 positions in one year. Ithaca, like many 0ther cities, has struggled to hire police officers in recent months, despite increasing incentives like hiring bonuses.

Some, like Ithaca’s police union and Republican mayoral candidate, Zach Winn, have attributed the department’s hiring woes to the city’s Reimagining Public Safety police reform effort.

Acting Police Chief John Joly said removing the funding could slow down IPD’s hiring efforts. 

“I think it’s important that we allow for funding for those positions so that we can fill them throughout this year,” Joly said.

Joly said the Ithaca Police Department has a group of 20 prospective hires that recently passed the required physical exam, one of several prerequisites to becoming a police officer. Previously, Joly asked the city to fund two more police officer positions in next year’s budget, but so far it looks like those additional positions are not on the table.

Ithaca Controller Steven Thayer said under the proposed plan, the city will consider restoring funding for the remaining vacancies, once IPD can hire at least eight officers.

The budget is not finalized. Residents can give feedback during a series of public hearings. The next hearing takes place Thursday, October 20th at 6:00 p.m. The public will have numerous chances to comment before the budget process wraps up on November 2. 

You can read the mayor’s proposed budget online here