Council members hit streets for public budget opinion
Some of Utica's Common Council members have taken to the streets to get public opinion before they vote on the mayor's proposed budget for next year. Our Andrew Sorensen reports on the conversations the meetings are starting.
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UTICA, N.Y. -- Common Council members James Zecca and Frank Vescera aren't pleased with the proposed 18 percent tax hike in Mayor Robert Palmieri's budget.
They discussed their issues with a room half-full of citizens at the Restaurant Europa in East Utica on Wednesday night.
"All of the entities that are involved here have to do everything in our power to reduce our costs there is no other way out," Councilman James Zecca said.
Some council members are scrambling to find ways to cut costs before the taxes and the 38 lay offs in Mayor Palmieri's plan are put in place.
Councilman Frank Vescera went further, saying, "I think when you present a budget calling to fire people but are willing to keep a building open that loses money and to keep a program going that loses money, that's disrespectful and insulting to those people."
Now they're reaching out to the public for help.
"Getting out in the public is always good because that offers up a level of transparency that's not normally offered," Vescera explained.
Among the suggestions were a more volunteer level firefighting system and higher fees for sewage usage.
Some said the city went about the budget process all wrong.
"We should not start from 18 percent and work our way down, we should have started from two percent increase in the budget and seen what the impact of that would be," Long-time Utican Tim Trent said.
Vescera and Zecca also used the opportunity to gain support for a referendum to bring union negotiations under council control instead of going through the Board of Estimates and Apportionment. They said the effort would decrease the contractual increases the city bears now.
"I think they're a toothless tiger," Zecca said of the Board. "It's a body that is just an extra layer of government that is not looking-- that is not there to look out for the taxpayer."
Council members will host several similar forums to gauge public opinion before they have a final budget vote on March 20.