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Utica Common Council moves forward with plan to pave entire city

Payne Horning

Complaints from Utica residents about the city's roads have reached a fever pitch. 

"It has been a long time since required paving has been increased and there is a big public outcry to fix the roads, it was blatantly apparent in the last campaign season," said Common Council President Michael Galime.

So the council has proposed a $75 million plan to pave each city road over the next 15 years. The council recently took the first step in that plan by approving the creation a referendum this November. It will ask residents to increase the amount the city is obligated to spend on paving each year from $2 million to $5 million.

Next, the council has to develop a way to pay for that annual $3 million increase. Much of it will come from bonding, which is why Councilman David Testa voted against the referendum.

"I'm not against paving roads, I'm just against the concept of borrowing money in the long term because year to year, we don’t know what’s going to hit the city," Testa said. "My concern is that we keep raising taxes - go back to the old way where I walked into office where there was an $8 million deficit; we had to cut police, fire and DPW - I don't want us to come to that situation where we lose public safety."

Testa is referring to the major budget gap and depleted fund reserves the city faced in 2012, from which it has only recently recovered. But proponents of the plan, like Councilman Bill Phillips, say it's overdue and the council has few options.

"The price of doing business in government, to take care of basic needs, costs money," Phillips said. "And there’s no magic wand to get money. When you’re talking $75 million, there’s only so much cutting you can do to get to that." 

Councilman Joseph Marino, the architect of the plan, said the city won't have to bond the entire project. Marino said he's working with the council now to develop a way to generate funding through a small property tax increase, roughly 0.74 percent, or a user fee that would be applied to all homes, businesses and nonprofits in the city.

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.