by Alex Palombo
As many local fire departments struggle to find funding, the Ithaca Fire Department gets some of their money from an unexpected source: Cornell University.
According to John Gutenberger, the vice president of Governmenta nd Community Relations at Cornell University, the IFD received around $660,000 of a $1.1 million contribution last year from Cornell to the city of Ithaca. Gutenberger said the university has a long history of making contributions to the city for health and safety, going back to the protesting of the 1960s.
"A lot of student unrest was spilling out into the community, so that's how [the contribution] started," he said.
Now that there is less student unrest and public safety threats, the university continues to make a contribution to the city, as what Gutenberger calls a "memorandum of understanding," or a way to acknowledge the difficult job the IFD is taking on.
"It's more of a recognition of life and limb," he said.
Even though both the university and Ithaca College are tax exempt non-profits, they are still covered by the town and city of Ithaca for fire service. Acting Fire Chief Tom Dorman said that while the IFD could always use more funding, the department has an obligation to protect the city and town of Ithaca, whether they pay taxes or not.
"I would be lying if I said we wouldn't like more money from tax exempt places," he said. "But again, it's not a requirement. We have an obligation to protect the whole city, whether they pay taxes or not."
Dorman went on to say that the two colleges are not the only tax exempt places in the town that the IFD protects. The Red Cross, churches, and other nonprofits also pay no taxes but are covered by the department as well.
Carl Sgrecci, the vice president of Finance and Administration at Ithaca College, said the college does not make monetary contributions to the fire department because of the rules keeping the college from spending students' tuition on donations. However, the college has given to the IFD in other ways. In addition to some students volunteering as firefighters and providing some venues for training of firefighters in teh past, the college provided the IFD with land.
"We made the land available where the fire station is here on South Hill," Sgrecci said. We, in essence, gave that to the city to be able to build the fire department, with the proviso that if for any reason they should discontinue using it for the fire station, that it reverts back to us."
Ithaca College junior Rachel Corcoran said that she wishes the college gave back more to the IFD in exchange for their service.
"The fire department in Ithaca protects us from fires and also helps out with other emergencies," she said. "They deserve our support, whether it be through monetary contributions or more volunteer work."
Sgrecci said that the college often gets a bad reputation in the area for not giving back to the community. But he believes that in addition to being the second largest source of employment in the area, the college's contributions to Ithaca are often overlooked.
"I don't feel we need to be defensive about what we do," he said. "We're obviously a major employer, but we have a whole raft of ares where our students and employees are participating in organizations throughout the community."