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PANEL SAYS UTICA, COUNTY SHOULD CONSOLIDATE

A team of business leaders says this Central New York city will have to consolidate services with the county and cut costs even more if it's going to escape its financial woes.

The 11-member city-county partnership board, formed when Utica nearly defaulted on its debts last summer, says the city should trim its police and fire departments, raise property taxes slightly and even consider selling off city parks in an effort to balance its budget.

Among key recommendations: Cut 31 employees from the Police Department and 10 from the Fire Department, consolidate delivery of almost every city service with county government or other communities and index property taxes to inflation, but reserve the extra revenue for a contingency fund.

The recommendations face a hard road before any of them win approval from city and county governments. Already, some ideas have drawn critics.

"I don't think the citizens of this city want to see fewer police officers," said James Franco, president of the local Police Benevolent Association.

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