A plan put forward by the Utica Common Council that aims to pave all of the city’s roads will move forward.
UTICA — A plan put forward by the Utica Common Council that aims to pave all of the city’s roads will move forward.
At its meeting Wednesday, the council voted 6 to 2 to override Mayor Robert Palmieri’s veto of a $75 million, 15-year plan that council members unveiled in July.
“The entire council, whether they voted for it or against it, you have a duty to go out there and tell the people what you think about it,” said Councilman Joe Marino, D-4, a proponent of the plan. “If you voted against it, then you have a duty to go out and tell people why you think it’s bad; and if you voted for it, then you have a duty to go out and tell people why you think it’s good.”
The override means there will be a public referendum in November asking residents to approve increasing the $2 million the city currently spends on paving annually to $5 million a year.
“Now we have to tell the people what we’re doing with their money,” Marino said, “and they will have a chance now to decide if we told them a story that they can buy into or if we told them something that they’re not comfortable with.”
Palmieri said Thursday he still doesn’t support the council’s plan.
“Ultimately, the residents have the right to vote for this,” he said. “I just want to make sure that they get the right information to make an educated vote on it and that they don’t regret their vote 10 years down the road or five years down the road when our taxes are going through the roof.”
The city charter mandates that $2 million be spent on paving annually using Consolidated Local Streets and Highway Improvement Program funds, Community Development Block Grant monies and supplemental taxes. That money helps with repairs to roughly five miles of roads.
To cover the cost of the $5 million each year, the council planned to do several things, including using a $500,000 annual payment from the Mohawk Valley Water Authority and using the $2 million the city charter already mandates be spent on paving annually.
The remaining $2.5 million would be acquired in the form of a perpetual capital improvement bonding issuance for the 15-year cycle. The bonding was expected to cost taxpayers $3 million over the full 15 years, or about $200,000 per year.
The council’s plan could bring a potential 0.74 percent tax levy increase per year, or around $9.40 for a home assessed at $55,000 in Utica, which is the average. But Marino has said in the past that the possible increase was a “worst-case scenario.”
Councilman Mark Williamson, R-at-large, voted against the override. He said he had several concerns, such as the potential for a tax increase and how the plan could impact future administrations.
“I understand roads need to get done,” he said, “but there’s got to be a better way, a better plan on this.”
Palmieri, in his veto message to council members last month, said the plan would bring “significant tax increases in future budget years.”
He expressed concern that the council’s proposal did not reflect projected increases in paving costs, with the amortization schedule for the bonding of the project and how the plan could impact the city's budget.
“I had a responsibility for the residents to let them know what all the numbers are actually,” Palmieri said. “It’s not a 15-year plan; it’s a 30-year plan. It is a tax increase, and my fear is if I did nothing down the road, the people come back and put the responsibility on me.”
Councilman Dave Testa, D-2, also voted against the override. Like Palmieri, he said he was worried about potential tax increases and how the plan could affect staffing in the city and the city’s budget.
“At this time, I don’t think it’s a good idea, this plan,” Testa said. “I’m not going to support it. I’m in favor of doing more roads, yes, but in the short term.”
Marino, meanwhile, said that one of the next steps in the process will be making sure those who make cuts to city roads – such as utility companies – are doing repairs properly. Then a list of roads and their conditions will have to be put together.
“There’s a ton to be done from this point moving forward,” Marino said, “and I’m really looking forward to getting into it.”
But in the end, Marino said he was proud the council would let residents have a say on the matter.
“If they vote yes, we go forward guns blazing and we make sure that we do things the right way and don’t throw good money after bad,” he said. “If they vote no, then we … (go) back to the drawing board and figure out a way to fix the roads. But at the end of the day, they’ll be the ones that decide how we move forward.”
Follow @OD_Gerould on Twitter or call him at 315-792-4995.