Despite local opposition, the city of Binghamton has approved its 2021 budget.
On Oct. 29, the Binghamton City Council passed the $97.7 million budget. This comes amid recent efforts by local organizations to push the city to divest from police and reinvest in programs to combat various community issues, such as housing, substance abuse and mental health. Binghamton Mayor Richard David’s office did not respond to requests to elaborate on the final budget, but David did issue a statement after the passing. He celebrated the bipartisan effort to maintain important city services without burdening taxpayers and touted Binghamton’s economic standing in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As municipalities find themselves in compromised positions, Binghamton is faring better — not only because of the decisions we made in response to the pandemic, but because of years of proactive decisions when the economy was strong,” David wrote in the statement. “I thank [Binghamton] City Council for their bipartisan support of this budget. It’s a road map for not just delivering essential government services but also tackling the tough challenges residents expect us to take on.”
However, local organizers believe there needs to be major changes made to the budget. Divestment, Accountability and Reinvestment in Our Community (DAROC), a coalition of several local organizations such as Justice and Unity for the Southern Tier (JUST), Truth Pharm and Citizen Action of New York, has been hosting meetings and surveying locals to brainstorm ways in which police spending at the city and county levels can be better utilized to support the community. Bill Martin, Bartle professor of sociology and a member of JUST, explained the operations DAROC has taken to provide community input to the budget processes.
“We have held community meetings large and small, from 400 to 40, outdoors in parks across the city, with people voting at each meeting on where they want funds spent,” Martin wrote in an email. “We have canvassed online. We have spoken at length at county and city budget hearings. People at these meetings are clear: adding yet more police officers in this time of health crisis is a moral mistake. Concrete alternatives were expressed at all these meetings.”
There are eight vacant police officer positions in the Binghamton Police Department (BPD), yet the 2021 budget plans to add two new officers. Overall, the BPD budget was decreased to $12,576,991.86 from 2020’s $12,880,656.87. Abigail Cornelia, a junior double-majoring in English and philosophy, politics and law, thinks this 2.4 percent decrease does little to remedy the problems inherent in policing.
“This doesn’t change the fact that the police are still heavily armed, they still hold a large presence in the community and they still contribute to the high death rate at the Broome County Jail,” Cornelia wrote in an email. “Any minor reduction of a police budget that is not a complete defunding is a mere Band-Aid on a violent, racist system. But on the bright side, in 2021 BPD plans to spend $100,000 on diversity training for their majority white police force, just under the $123,355 [that will be spent] on uniforms.”
Lizzie Nutig, a senior double-majoring in sociology and philosophy, politics and law and a member of DAROC, also believes it is necessary to fully defund BPD in order to cause real change.
“Personally, I would like to see the police completely disbanded in Binghamton,” Nutig wrote. “I have both seen and heard countless stories of the violence of the police in Binghamton. Binghamton is no different from other cities, the police are violent here and work to oppress.”
Nutig was not surprised by the passing of the budget but is not discouraged.
“Since [Binghamton] City Council heavily leans conservative and the mayor is very conservative and pro-police, we didn’t expect the budget not to get passed, but the fight will always continue and never stop,” Nutig wrote. “There is always a fight in Binghamton, and I am always so proud of this community and feel so much love for it.”
Mary Clark, the regional director and federal issues coordinator for Citizen Action of New York, echoed Nutig’s optimism. Clark sees a silver lining in the actions DAROC took to voice their concerns about the budget because she hopes it will inspire others in the community to speak up for their needs going forward.
“I really think it’s starting to educate people that you have a voice in this,” Clark said. “Because traditionally, all of this is done behind closed doors, no one knows when the budget hearings are happening, are totally disempowered. So I think they are starting to say, ‘Oh, we have a voice and we have a right to raise our concerns and be heard from.’”