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Common Council Meets To Discuss Utica’s Finances, Possible Cuts

Gino Geruntino, WIBX

After spending nearly three hours talking about Utica’s finances, the Common Council says it’s getting closer to balancing the budget.

The Council introduced several amendments, including cuts to police and fire department overtime and repair costs at the marina and ski chalet. Other numbers were augmented, adding money to the contingency fund in case the city loses its arbitration case regarding police show-up pay.

Still, Councilman Joe Marino says cuts can be made, but there isn’t much meat left on the bone.

“I do think a lot of them can go,” Marino said. “You know, some of them could get shot down for one reason or another, but I think a lot of the amendments are very practical and I think they’re very cost effective. Look, there’s not a huge amount of money that’s wasteful in this city.”

Some reductions, though, may be more difficult to make than others, such as a possible $50,000 cut to the city’s street cleaning budget used for salt.

When asked about the cut, DPW commissioner Dave Short said he was “uncomfortable” with the number, and that this year’s expenses already totaled $385,000. Short also said other cuts to playground overtime play were difficult, since employees work on the weekends to make sure city polls are operational. To cut the budget would mean to lose some of those services.

Marino agreed with Short’s assessment.

“No department head wants to give up any part of their line,” Marino said. “We have to be practical and salt is a very important function of this city’s doing business. So, if there’s a lot of salt left over and Dave Short knew about it he’d say, ‘Look, we can get rid of a little bit of that line.’ He felt otherwise, and I actually agree with him. I think that we need salt and need to keep it in that budget line… We have terrible winters in Central New York and we can’t fool around with the salt.”

Among other amendments introduced came from Councilmen Frank Vescera and Jim Zecca. The two introduced the idea of possible furloughs by city employees and to raise the cost of blue bags to help subsidize the city’s green waste collection.

Zecca noted that by forcing employees to take one day off a month, for a total of 11.4 days a year, the city could save upwards of $1.1 million dollars and drop the overall tax rate by one percent. Smaller tax breaks could be made by decreasing the number of furlough days required.

Though the idea did get some interest, Ed Bucciero stated that “everyone in the city has work to do” and cited the fire department’s manning clause could be impacted. He also said the Common Council would not be able to enforce it, rather the Mayor would have to oversee it.

As for a possible ten cent increase to the cost of the city’s blue bags, there was some debate whether the money would go to the city, but Zecca explained that the city sets the user fees. By increasing the costs of bags, it would reduce the amount paid in property taxes by approximately $100,000, while drawing in not-for-profits, renters, businesses and others not involved in paying property taxes.

Another finance meeting is scheduled for tomorrow in the Utica Common Council Chambers at 5:30 p.m.

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