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Money dwindles, costs rise, city leaders argue

By By JOLEEN FERRIS

UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - As the city of Utica's financial picture becomes more bleak, the city's mayor and comptroller are at odds about how it got so bad in the first place, as well as how to fix it.

Mayor David Roefaro has proposed an 11% property tax increase and 3/4% sales tax hike in order to balance the budget. Comptroller Michael Cerminaro says raiding the city accounts and burdening already-strapped taxpayers and businesses are not the answers.

Cerminaro says that very soon, dipping into the city's rainy day accounts won't just be a bad decision - it will be impossible.

"And now the city of Utica has used all its reserves and now they want to dip into the fund balance," Cerminaro said. "We can't do that."

Cerminaro has suggested restructuring public safety in order to preserve the number of cops on the street, while cutting costs.

"Do we need a public safety department right now?" Cerminaro asked. "We have Mark Williams. What a great chief he is going to be. We have Russ Brooks. They know how to run their departments."

Mayor Roefaro says that while public safety is part of the equation, it's not enough to solve the magnitude problems the city faces.

"When you get a bill for $4.7 million from the New York State pension system, there's nowhere we can go," Roefaro said. "So, it either goes to property tax or it goes to sales tax, because there are no other revenues."

Roefaro also criticized Cerminaro for trying to give himself a raise.

"This year he put himself in for a raise, if you can imagine that," Roefaro said. "And that's appalling to me that he put in a budget with a raise for himself. So, here he's talking about how we should cut expenses, but here the man puts in a raise for himself."

Cerminaro says they go through this ritual every year. He says that while the raises are required by law to be in the budget, he never takes them during tough financial times like this.

The city Board of Estimate and Apportionment was supposed to vote on the mayor's budget proposal Wednesday, However, that meeting was canceled due to "lack of business."

Cerminaro was disappointed to have to wait to cast his 'no' vote on the budget.

He's also concerned that the common council won't have adequate time to examine the proposal before the law requires them to act on it March 20. Cerminaro says his understanding of city law is that if the council doesn't act on the budget by March 20, it goes into effect by default.

The E&A budget vote is now tentatively rescheduled for Monday afternoon.

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