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Police and fire depts. can't take any more cuts

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Police and fire depts. can't take any more cuts
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Utica city officials are still putting the finishing touches on the 2013 budget. The numbers are being crunched, and cuts are being considered, but there are two departments in the city that say they can't take any more bad news. Our Cara Thomas spoke with the police and fire chiefs, who say Utica residents may have to make a choice between lower taxes or quality public safety.

UTICA, N.Y. -- Things may be looking up for the City of Utica this year.

"I think last year if you looked at the City of Utica, we were on life support. I think if you look at us at this point we're in fair condition and we're recovering," said Mayor Robert Palmieri.

Last year, Utica was dealing with a budget deficit of more than $8 million, This year, the mayor says it will be significantly less.

"Minimal maybe 2.5, maybe 3 million dollars," said Palmieri.

But two departments within the city aren't as optimistic. Over the past few years, the fire and police departments have had to make major personnel cuts - many of which were positions that were eliminated after someone retired.

Utica's Police Chief Mark Williams said, "I've lost right now, nine young officers, the future of the department has left and are finding jobs elsewhere because they're the lowest ones on the seniority totem pole they're in fear they're going to lose their jobs."

"Looking at the fire department now, I have 109 guys on staff, when I was appointed we had 256 men. I mean, how much lower can you go," said Fire Chief Russell Brooks.

Last year alone, 50 city positions were cut as a result of the budget deficit. This year, 20 positions have already been eliminated.

"There's no clear sailing at this point. Everybody's going to feel a little bit of pain and in order to get healthy again that's what we need to do," said Palmieri.

But at the end of the day, public safety officials say the community and elected officials have to make a choice and it won't be easy.

Chief Williams said, "I can completely understand they don't want their taxes raised. But at the same time these are the people that don't want to lose their essential services either."

Fire officials say any additional cuts will take nearby fire protection away from some sections of the city. Utica's chief of police says cuts will not only limit available public safety services, but could eliminate them all together.

Mayor says he plans to present the 2013 budget to the common council during the February 20th meeting.

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