By Breana Cacciotti
ITHACA, NY – After years of providing the entirety of Ithaca College with fire protection services, the Town of Ithaca wants to cut back.
The Town has been trying to get the college to make a contribution to the town for the past few years to help cover the cost of fire protection services, but Town Supervisor Bill Goodman says the college won’t agree to contribute.
The Town of Ithaca pays $3.2 million to the City of Ithaca to contract their fire department and about 25 percent of service calls go to the college’s campus, according to Goodman.
President of Ithaca College, Tom Rochon, responded in a statement saying: “It is important to note that Ithaca College pays taxes on properties that it owns that are not central to its educational mission. More significantly, the college already makes voluntary payments to the Town of Ithaca in lieu of taxes and has been doing so for the past 13 years.”
While the college does not provide contribution for the main campus, it does pay contribution for the College Circle Apartments through the Payment In Lieu of Taxes agreement with the Tompkins County Industrial Development Agency.
There is no state law that requires a college or university to pay for its fire protection. Goodman notes that there are other colleges and universities around the state that contribute to the cost of their fire protection for the whole campus, including Cornell University, which pays $750,000 per year. However, according to U.S. News, Cornell University has a larger campus size, student enrollment, and endowment compared to Ithaca College. The site shows Cornell University’s endowment of over $6 billion in 2015, compared to Ithaca College’s 2015 endowment of almost $290 million.
“To the best of our knowledge, no college or university, nor any other nonprofit institution, has ever been denied critical, safety-related governmental services as a result of their tax-exempt status, and there is no basis under New York State law for the Town of Ithaca to do so,” Rochon wrote.
Some students on campus feel that the college is not being wise on behalf of the safety of its students and faculty.
“With the number of students on this campus and their age, I don’t think it’s smart of the school to forego safety of the students and staff members to save some money,” student Jamie Albrecht said.
Albrecht, a junior athletic training major, said she has lived on campus for three years and would not feel safe without the local fire services, since she has experienced multiple occurrences living in the dorms where the Ithaca fire services were called.
“Both last year and the previous year the fire alarm in my building went off and fire trucks came because of a small fire in the kitchen or someone’s microwave,” Albrecht said. “It would have been scary and potentially dangerous to students if we weren’t able to have the fire trucks come.”
Goodman said the Town has tried to approach the college multiple times over a number of years, and had only just recently heard back. The town supervisor from the previous year had wrote a letter to Rochon, saying if contributions from the college were not made in 2016, then the Town would consider cutting the college from its fire protection district in 2017.
In order for the Town to make a final decision that will go into effect, the board must first go through a process to also get the approval of the public.
“Under state law, towns can adjust the boundaries of their fire protection district,” Goodman said. “Our first step is to hold a public hearing and then the board can make a final decision by the end of the year.”