Utica's Budget Now in Common Council's Hands

By By GARY LIBERATORE

UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - Utica Mayor David Roefaro presented his newly adjusted budget that contains an 18.62 percent property tax increase to the City's Estimate and Apportionment Board Monday afternoon.

That board had to approve his budget, in order for it to be sent to the City's Common Council. The board approved the mayor's budget by a 3 to 2 vote. One of those who voted no, is Common Council President Bill Morehouse, "you know the way our Council is set up, I don't get a vote on the budget on the actual Council, so this is my one chance to show my distaste for an 18.62 percent increase. Now how do you get rid of 3.5 million out of the budget? Well, unfortunately people are going to have to lose their jobs, that's the bottom line. I don't want anyone to see anybody to lose their jobs. I come from a business standpoint, but when my business is losing money I have to do something to right the ship."

Mayor Roefaro's original budget contained a half-a percent sales tax increase, but after hearing from State Senator Joe Griffo and Assemblywoman Roann Destito, who weren't so keen on bringing the sales tax increase to the state legislature, he decided not to take the chance, and instead is proposing to increase property taxes even higher. He said again on Monday, the 4.7 million dollar bill the state sent the City of Utica this year for pension funding is what has hurt, "when Wall Street fell, so did the whole market, so the State Comptrollers office, they don't generate enough income to keep up with the rate of inflation of the pension fund, so what they do is pass that bill along to us."

The mayor's budget also calls for a reduction in the city's tax stabilization and reserve fund from 5% to 3%. He says three percent is a state allowed amount. That extra 1.1 million dollars would be used this year to help with this year's budget. If that isn't used, the tax hike in his budget would be over 22 percent. To get it lower than the proposed 18.6 percent, the Common Council will have to make some cuts, and make them quick. Their deadline to have a budget in place is March 22nd.

To give you an idea of what you will pay under the mayor's proposed 18.62 percent tax increase, if you own a home appraised at $50,000, you would pay an additional $174.00 a year in property taxes. A $75,000 home, $261.00, and a $100,000 home, $348.00 in additional taxes.

Mayor Roefaro says we here in Utica are actually in better shape than a lot of other municipalities around the state, "this is a very difficult budget and nobody seems to realize that you've got New Hartford with 46%, you've got Newburgh with 48%, you've got Saratoga which was facing 40%, they're slashing everything left and right, everybody around the state is facing the same thing."

Mayor Roefaro is urging people attend the only public hearing on the budget next Wednesday, March 17th at 6:30 at Utica's City Hall. He hopes people bring ideas as to what programs and services they can live without, to avoid higher property tax increases.

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