Amid budget woes, Utica may try to get user-fees from non-profits

By JOLEEN FERRIS

UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - After proposing a cut of nearly 40 jobs and raising taxes 18%, Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri says it's time to get creative about finding new sources of revenue.

"I think it's time, as we have a user fee that everyone pays for what they use," Palmieri said. "I think it's time we start looking at that for either street paving, sidewalks, street lighting."

Palmieri and some common council members have made a trip to Rochester in order to explore 'user fees'. Don't call it a tax; not-for-profits are tax exempt. But user fees are a way of getting money from them. While most not-for-profits are sympathetic with the city's plight, but they are not flush with cash.

"Well, I certainly understand the dilemma the city is in, but we're in the same dilemma, if not worse. Money is very tight," says Hope House Executive Director Thomas Labayewski.

Labayewski says the demand for Hope House's services has gone up 25% over the past two years with no sign of slowing.

"In fact, last year we served a record number of meals over 97 thousand meals and already in the first month and a half of this year, we're up almost 15% over the same time last year," says Labayewski.

"Like anyone else, we're financially strapped," says Natalie Brown, Executive Director of the not-for-profit YWCA.

A background in accounting and management has familiarized Brown with the need to make tough decisions.

"My responsibility is to make sure I'm serving my clients and taking care of my employees," Brown said. "So if we get extra fees, we're going to have to look and see how that impacts us and we're going to have to make tough decisions."

Mayor Palmieri says he didn't put the user fees in the current budget proposal, because he hasn't yet had adequate time to research how it's done. However, Palmieri did say that he and council people are looking at the possibility of drafting user fee legislation.

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