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Council approves 9.9% tax hike and dozens of layoffs

By LEXIE O'CONNOR

UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - Utica's Common Council voted to amend Mayor Palmieri's proposed budget for the city Tuesday night, approving a 9.9% property tax hike and major job losses in public safety.

While the council's tax increase is less than the mayor's proposed 18% tax hike, it still brings added taxes for Utica home owners. Now, homeowners with a house assessed at $70,000 will be paying about $144 more a year, or about $12 a month.

Some councilors voiced their opinions that they still wished the council could have kept within the state's 2% property tax cap, and while some realizing a 2 percent tax for the city wasn't feasible, said they couldn't approve a tax increase that was still almost double digits.

The council voted 7 to 2, approving the 9.9% tax increase, the majority feeling that their tax increase was better than defaulting to the mayor's 18% increase.

Councilors Samantha Colosimo-Testa and Joe Marino voted no. Councilor Marino says this now brings "The worst of both worlds."

"People are getting hit with a double digit tax increase, and they will be under-protected," says Councilor Joe Marino. "You know, whether or not the cuts will genuinely affect response time, I'm sure they'll be a study regarding that. However, you cut cops, you're gonna affect public safety."

The Common Council also voted to override the mayor's veto of the compliment they proposed, and approved a cut of 12 firefighters and 12 police officers (7 officers currently on the street and the 5 in the police academy). They also eliminated the 5 vacancies in the police department.

The proposal reduces the police department from 175 positions to having 163 positions, authorizing:

- 1 Chief
- 1 Deputy
- 2 Captains
- 4 Lieutenants
- 25 Sergeants
- 110 Police Officers
- 20 Investigators

And reduces the fire department from 135 to 123 positions, authorizing:

- 1 Fire Chief
- 1 Assistant Fire Chief
- 0 Chief Fire Marshal
- 1 Assistant Maintenance Superintendent
- 2 Deputy Fire Chiefs
- 3 Fire Captains
- 1 Fire Marshal
- 24 Fire Lieutenants
- 90 Firefighters and firefighters/EMT

While the adjusted compliment brings cuts to public safety, it also affects ranks in departments, what Utica's Police Benevolent Association President Dominick Nitti says will lead to less supervision.

"We have a Deputy Chief now that's going to be a Captain. We have a Captain that's going to be a Sergeant dropped down two ranks because of this," says Nitti. "Right now, we have a Lieutenant that's going to be a patrolman, again two ranks he's dropping, because they decided they know how to supervise our department and they're way off base."

Nitti and Police Chief Mark Williams say the cuts could end up costing Utica more, leading to hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawsuits.

"Supervision is critical to a police department," says Chief Williams. "When you have a loss of supervision, you open the department up to civil liability. I think you maybe save a few thousand dollars by cutting these ranks, but ultimately you'll be paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in claims on lawsuits."

Chief Williams and Fire Chief Russell Brooks again told the Common Council Tuesday that they wished the council would let them decide where the cuts were in their departments.

As PBA President, Nitti says that he is going to continue negotiations with the mayor. He says he would like to agree to some ideas, like retirement incentives to save some of the jobs.

The layoffs and the property tax increase take affect April 1.

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