Councilmembers to propose Utica Budget without tax increase; police unions say health plan proposal 'a tough sell'

By JOLEEN FERRIS

UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - Utica's Common Council has one more week to work with the city budget before they have to have a final budget in place.

They're looking for major concessions, city-wide, and that's going to be a tough sell to members of the city's police union.

Meanwhile, a couple of councilmembers say that they're going to show taxpayers what a budget with no tax increase would look like.

So how do you pare down an 18% tax increase and save some of the 38 jobs Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri had to cut in order to produce a structurally sound budget?

One word that keeps being uttered as a solution is "concessions."

Those concession look to be in the realm of healthcare, which costs the city $10 million a year.

Some employees already contribute, but the proposed city budget is now in the common council's hands and they're looking at having city workers pay more and having those who don't contribute, start to.

However, the head of the city's police union says they are under contract with the city for healthcare, and that the city came to them with the agreement two years ago.

"So it ended up being UFD, UPD, CSEA, all came into agreement with the city for five years, which brought the city $1.2 million in savings two years ago," said Dominick Nitti, President of the Utica Police Benevolent Association. "That agreement is good for five years. June 1 of this year will be the second year of the agreement. So we still have three years left in that agreement with them."

Nitti says changing the agreement, which was the city's idea in the first place, may be a tough sell with PBA membership.

"I've paid nothing," said Nitti. "I've paid nothing. I've paid 15%. I've paid 10%. Now we're back to paying 0% with the contract we signed with them. It'll be tougher for me to have my membership vote on that and give that back other than any other concession we're bringing to the table right now."

However, Nitti says that's not to say the police aren't willing to make concessions to save fellow officers' jobs. He says the union offered some concessions Tuesday and are waiting to hear back from the city.

"I'm hoping to get a phone call that the numbers I gave them this afternoon are correct or close to it, and hopefully have something to bring my membership within the next day or so," Nitti said.

Meanwhile, some councilmembers are working to show taxpayers what a zero percent tax hike would look like on paper.

Councilman Frank Vescera says it is possible, but that it involves all those unpalatable options. In the end, Vescera says, let the people decide..

"(There are) concessions, certainly," Vescera said. "A combination of concessions, cuts, it's inevitable. We'll have to look at some other things, structures."

Vescera hopes to unveil that zero percent tax increase budget at Wednesday night's council meeting.

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