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Utica Law Enforcement stands together at Budget Hearing

By LEXIE O'CONNOR

UTICA,N.Y. (WKTV) - Utica firefighters, police officers and officers in training filled City Hall's Counsel Chambers for Wednesday's Common Council Meeting. The city's budget which proposes an 18 % property tax hike and cut of 38 city jobs is now in the Common Council's hands.

Utica's Police and Fire Chiefs as well as many concerned citizens addressed the Common Council about the necessity to saving public safety jobs, what would make up a majority of the proposed layoffs.

Amending the city's Police and Fire Department compliments, was just one of the the items for discussion, however it's what attendants were most concerned with.

"This is a brotherhood," says Utica Fire Chief Russell Brooks. "They don't view themselves as having a job they view this as a vocation, maybe even a sacred calling and when they think of one of their brothers getting laid off having to leave after coming to work and risking their lives...it's a traumatic issue for them."

However, it could be the reality as Mayor Palmieri's budget proposes a loss of 22 public safety jobs. With an ordinance to amend the Fire and Police Department compliments on the table, even more positions could be cut, positions Chief Brooks feels the city won't save on.

"This is a very ill conceived plan that would result in ten firefighters getting laid off April 1st," says Chief Brooks. "Eight of them their salaries and benefits are paid for by the federal government, they're the lowest paid." "The city would have to pay $400 a week for each of them to be out on unemployment so there's no savings."

The Council decided not to vote on amending the compliments at Wednesday's meeting, but did vote 7 to 2 in favor of being able to surpass the state's 2% tax cap. Giving the Common Council the option to raise taxes, what many city officials feel is necessary for Utica to survive.

"At this point it gives the Council a lot more flexibility," says City Comptroller Michael Cerminaro. "Without that, there's no flexibility whatsoever, that would mean absolutely almost destroying the city of Utica."

Chief Brooks says everyone needs to work as a team to solve the city's problems.

"We have to put our own wants aside and sit down at the table and do what's best for the citizens of Utica," says Chief Brooks. "Keep their taxes low and keep them safe."

Cerminaro agreed, saying that the city's financial problems are solvable.

"Give a little now to make a little bit later, and in two years time we'll be out of this mess," says Cerminaro.

Another Public Hearing regarding the budget will be at 6 pm. on Wednesday, March 14th at Utica City Hall.
The Common Council will vote on the finalized budget March 20th.

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