ITHACA, N.Y. — During a public hearing about whether the town of Ithaca should continue on a path toward stopping fire department services to Ithaca College, both a firefighter who lives in the town and an attorney for the college spoke out against the proposed measure.
“Again if the town intends to take such a drastic action and such an unprecedented step, it would help to hear what the town believes the savings from this will be to its residents, such as myself,” Dave Maley said.
Maley is a volunteer firefighter at the Cayuga Heights Fire Department, which serves the town of Ithaca, and is a spokesman for Ithaca College. But he said he was only speaking as a resident, not on behalf of IC or the fire department, during Monday night’s meeting at Ithaca Town Hall.
“The reason that I have been hearing that the town is seeking to remove Ithaca College from its fire protection district is, ostensibly, because of the high cost of contracting with the Ithaca fire Department to provide fire protection coverage for the college. I have not yet seen any documentation from the town regarding what the specific cost is to provide fire protection for Ithaca College alone,” Maley.
He also questioned what the cost savings would be for the taxpayer if the service was cut.
According to Ithaca Town Supervisor Bill Goodman, calls to Ithaca College are 20 to 25 percent of fire department calls in the town and fire protection makes up around 50 percent of what taxpayers pay to the town as part of their property tax bill.
The town currently pays about $3,225,000 to the city for fire protection from Ithaca Fire Department, which is about one-third of the total tax money that goes to the fire department. Each Town of Ithaca taxpayer pays about $3.30 per $1,000 of their property’s assessed value toward this part of the tax levy.
IC currently does not pay anything for fire protection for the main campus, though they do have a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreement on the College Circle apartments — a student-occupied facility — which provides some contribution.The town is not currently considering excluding those apartments from its fire protection services.
But Maley said that over the past two years, the majority of fire department calls have been to the College Circle Apartments.
“Therefore, cutting the rest of the campus from fire protection services would not greatly reduce the number of calls that the Ithaca Fire Department responds to,” Maley said.
Attorney Brody Smith, who is representing the college in this matter, also addressed the board.
He said that Ithaca College, like churches, theaters and charities, is a nonprofit, meaning it’s tax exempt.
“Now, no reason has been articulated by the town as to why the not for profit that I represent is any different than the not for profits, and other entities that perhaps I haven’t mentioned in the town,” Smith said. “Why should the educational institution be singled out and not the hospitals and not the churches and not the charities?”
He also pointed out that, “in an odd twist of irony,” IC donated some of the land the fire department is built on.
Smith said, “…Ithaca College is an important part of this community. It is an institution that, I think, gives back a lot to the community. And it is unfortunate that we are in the position that we are.”
The board did not take action on the proposed measure to exclude the college from the town’s fire department services.
Michael Smith contributed to this reporting.