Utica reaches tentative agreement with fire department union, mayor responds to State Comptroller's report on budget
UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - Just before heading into a caucus meeting in Utica City Hall at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri announced that the city had come to a tentative agreement with the Utica Fire Department's Union. Union negotiations had been an ongoing struggle for the city and its officials, with public safety making up almost 60% of the city's budget. Many proposals were put forth from various councilmembers on how to keep a tax rate increase from crushing taxpayers, including a proposed 8% tax cut for all city employees, across the board. The heads of Utica Police and Fire Unions said an 8% tax cut was a "tough sell" to their membership, and that particular proposal was voted down by the city council. "Just ten minutes ago, we had a tentative agreement with the Utica Fire Department union," Palmieri said Tuesday around 5 p.m. on his way into city hall. "So that's really good news. It's got to be ratified, but it's something we've been working on day and night for the past three weeks and we just signed it." Palmieri said he could not go into details of that tentative agreement, but said that he felt it was a step in the right direction when it came to the budget. "I think what it does, at this point, and I can't get into it, I think that it'll be significant for the budget at this time and it's going to be beneficial, not only to the members of the fire department, but also for the city and its citizens," Mayor Palmieri said. Palmieri also commented in regard to a review of the budget from the New York State Comptroller's Office. In that report, the state found several issues with the budget, including not enough money being put away into reserve funds, and budget lines made up of revenue that the city was not sure it would receive, such as the city's ambulance service, whose operation is still in litigation. "Everything they put in there, you can't disagree with," Mayor Palmieri said. "In a perfect world, I would say they're justified, but we're in a situation right now where, obviously, at 18% (tax increase), it's pretty steep. With all the recommendations (in the report), we'd be putting our tax rate at 47%. We certainly can't put that on the backs of the taxpayers at this point. So, if it was a decision in a perfect world, yup. As we all talked about, the fund balance is gone, water money's gone, there's no place to go any longer. They're looking for us to replenish that. We certainly can't replenish it in one year. A 48% tax increase to the residents with the recommendations is something we can't afford." Mayor Palmieri was also asked about why the speculative revenue of almost $2 million from the city's ambulance service was placed into the budget when it was something the city was unsure it would receive, Palmieri said he was hopeful for a good outcome from the courts. "I guess it's been tied up in court for the last four to five years," he said. "And it's something we've been doing and until that ruling does come down, which may be in our favor, why take $1.8 million out of that budget at this time? I think it's something...it's been there for six years...it's been operating, and hopefully it'll remain there." The caucus meeting at Utica City Hall got underway at 5 p.m., with the council's regular budget meeting beginning at 6 p.m.