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State report shows Utica in fiscal decline

A new state report describes the city of Utica as a city in fiscal decline. The state Comptroller's office has released a fiscal snapshot of the city as part of its new fiscal monitoring system.

The snapshot isn't a happy one. A declining population, high poverty, unemployment rates and a sluggish recovery from the recession have forced city leaders to raise taxes, cut jobs and deplete the city's savings account. But now that the state has quantified the problems, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli says there is help.

"We will, from the comptroller's office, try to provide technical assistance and budgetary guidance to be helpful. As you know, as part of the governor's budget plan, he's proposed a task force to provide intervention for those experiencing the greatest distress. So we want to help turn the situation around," he said.

DiNapoli says the story of city budget issues are all too familiar in city halls across upstate New York.

"Some of what you're dealing with here in Utica is not unique to this city," he said. "There are challenges and structural changes that many of our cities are facing. So I think it suggests that we all need to think creatively about what a strategy for keeping our cities going should look like for the future."

DiNapoli says reports like this are helpful by going in depth into the problems that cause fiscal stress, and to provide an early identification of cities in trouble before they're forced to turn to a control board or go bankrupt.

Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri says it took a decade for the city to get into its current state of fiscal stress, and it won't turn around overnight.

"It is very dismal, and it is very frustrating at times, but I do believe there is a light at the end of the tunnel," he said.

This report is part of a new statewide fiscal monitoring system that publicly identifies local governments suffering from fiscal stress.