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Legislature Declines to Proceed with Study Examining Joint Public Safety Facility

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Legislature Declines to Proceed with Study Examining Joint Public Safety Facility

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

The Legislature considered, but failed to support, moving ahead with an in-depth feasibility study to gather more information on the potential to establish a joint City-County public safety facility.  The proposed study would have delved deeper into findings of a preliminary study by Kingsbury Architecture on what could be involved if the County Sheriff’s Office (Road Patrol and Civil Division, and possibly the Jail) were to be co-located with the Ithaca Police Department at a location within the City of Ithaca.  The City’s Common Council has already supported moving ahead—asking staff to develop a scope of work for a detailed architectural and engineering analysis to evaluate potential costs and benefits, as well as an operational analysis to analyze the potential use of shared facilities.  But after considerable discussion, the Legislature declined to follow suit, with the proposal rejected by a 5-8 vote; Legislators Rich John, Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, Anna Kelles, Dan Klein, and Chair Martha Robertson voted in favor. (Legislature Mike Sigler was excused.)

As he has before, Public Safety Committee Chair John stressed that it was a generational decision the Legislature would be making if it didn’t go forward with the study—that it is a rare opportunity to have the County and City looking to build law enforcement facilities at the same time.  And he stressed that the only decision at this time would be to undertake a study, whose first step would be developing a defined scope of work.  A more in-depth study, he and others said, would provide valuable information to inform a later decision on the issue.  Centralized booking and arraignments, as recommended by the Municipal Courts Task Force, would be one area in which significant efficiencies could be achieved in the criminal justice system, he said.  Attorney Ray Schlather, who chaired the Courts Task Force, and Judge Scott Miller, who served on it, both spoke to the Legislature supporting the co-location study.

Others, however, questioned seriously considering shared facilities—Legislator Michael Lane saying he began to question studying co-location when the option of building a new jail began to be mentioned as part of it.  Legislators Deborah Dawson was one who expressed concern about moving the Sheriff farther from the County’s Northeast population center and higher call volume, as well as melding two agencies with different cultures, pay scales, etc.   Legislator Shawna Black also said it makes no sense to move the Sheriff from the Village of Lansing and property the County already owns.

Legislator Anna Kelles said her colleagues are not planners or architects and don’t have the expertise needed to make a technical decision that would be the best for all in Tompkins County.  Legislator Leslyn McBean-Clairborne also maintained further study is needed to get more information and suggested that a failure to move forward would go against public input received as part of prior law enforcement studies.

After the vote, Chair Robertson expressed her thanks for all who have examined the co-location options over many months, including County Administrator Jason Molino, Deputy Administrator Lisa Holmes, and Public Safety Chair John, and their work in trying to present the Legislature with options.