While city Common Council members talked a lot about giving back their cost-of-living wage increase, no action has been taken almost three weeks into the new budget year.

In Utica’s 2014-15 budget, a 2 percent pay increase was given to nine council members and president, which totaled a roughly $300 increase for each. The salaries for the part-time positions went from $15,215.91 to $15,520.23, according to the budget.

Some members had proposed removing the increase and others suggested donating the money to a specific department, such as the Youth Bureau.

“I was the one who brought it up at a meeting, we should give it back,” Utica Councilman Mark Williamson, R-at-large, said. “I put it on the Common Council floor.”

Despite the proposal, no one on the council has yet waived the raise.

The proposal didn’t gain any traction, nor did removing it because it’s written in the city’s charter, Corporation Counsel Assistant Attorney Charles Brown said.

“You have to pay an individual their salary,” he said. “An individual can waive the salary. If a councilman indicated that they wanted to waive it, we would give them the form.”

Tim Hoefer, executive director of the Empire Center for New York State Policy, questioned having the item written into the city charter.

“Things like writing in raises, it ties everybody’s hands,” he said. “My initial reaction is that a part-time salary is not meant to live off of, so a cost-of-living increase seems a little silly to me.”

Last year, Common Council President Frank Meola said several members voted to remove the increase from the budget. Meola, along with council members Edward Bucciero, David Testa, Joseph Marino and Samantha Colosimo-Testa, did not take the raise, nor did former councilman Jim Zecca, according to the City Clerk’s office.

Meola said, however, they didn’t have to sign a waiver at the time and said council members now could submit an amendment to remove the increase.

“Any of the council members could make an amendment to the budget right now,” he said. “They could move forward to keep the funding within the general fund.”

Some council members said they were waiting on letters from the Corporation Counsel that would allow them to waive the increase.

“Honestly, every other time we’ve done it they brought us a form down,” Councilwoman Samantha Colosimo-Testa, R-6, said. “Our tax keeps increasing each year. (The raise is) just something that I don’t see necessary at this point and time.”

Councilman Joseph Marino, D-4, said he was planning on asking the city clerk to have the Corporation Counsel provide the letters.

“I am absolutely not taking a cost-of-living wage this year or any other year until we have a negative tax increase,” he said.

Others were considering donating the money in some fashion.

“I’m going to give mine to the Youth Bureau as soon as I can find out how I can do it,” Councilman David Testa, D-2, said.

Bucciero said he’d be checking with the city Comptroller’s Office on how much increase was received and providing details for how to waive the increase to council members.

“The budget called for 2 percent, but legally the city was responsible to pay 3.2 percent,” he said. “It’ll give every council person the opportunity to individually do what they feel is right in their own mind.”

© 2014 Utica Observier-Dispatch

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