Utica Common Council approves budget, public safety cuts
Utica's Common Council approved their budget and steep cuts to the city's services and departments. Some of the largest cuts were to the police and fire departments. Our Andrew Sorensen reports.
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UTICA, N.Y. -- Utica's Common Council approved a final budget Tuesday night. At the center of a month's hard negotiations have been public safety workers.
The Utica Professional Firefighters have been operating outside of a contract with the city for nearly a year.
"Utica Fire Fighters came to an agreement with the city of Utica, Mayor Robert Palmieri, in a tentative two year agreement," Utica Professional Fire Fighters President Robert Wenner said shortly after they reached the deal Tuesday afternoon.
The agreement could save up to 12 firefighter's jobs if the union ratifies it. If they don't, they'll be stuck in a similar position as Utica's police when the budget takes effect starting April 1.
"It's seven bodies on the street, and then the academy kids will no longer have a job after April first, and we also have five vacancies that were not filled from retirees over the past year that are no longer on our budget," said Police Benevolent Association President Dominick Nitti after the budget was ratified.
In all, the Utica Common Council cut 17 police positions and 12 fire fighter positions with the adoption of the city's new budget Tuesday night. Many of the police department's senior members will be demoted or pushed to retire.
"Now all of the supervision we have in that department, all our senior guys, are no longer there to teach our young guys on how to be a decent police officer," Nitti said.
Police Chief Mark Williams criticized the council's decision to not allow the department to decide who and which positions to cut.
"You don't have the experience, the knowledge in police management or supervision," he said. "What you did was dangerous. You're going to be affecting lives, and more importantly, you're going to be affecting service."
The decision is not final. However, council members say they will be taking a hard second look at revising the numbers when the deals with the unions are finalized. But their backs were against the wall to make cuts when voting between a 9.9 percent tax increase or an increase that could have gone up to 18 percent.
"The only thing that we can pray for now is that the unions do come with concessions in order to save those jobs that are being lost," council member Samantha Colosimo-Testa said.
Council members also said during the meeting that they intend to return positions to both the police and fire departments as quickly as possible.