The property tax rebate checks will soon be on their way, as will higher property tax bills.
At its December 18th meeting, the City Council voted by a margin of 33 to 18 to repeal a seven percent real estate tax reduction that had been enacted a couple of years back, when the city was flush with funds. The vote in favor of the tax cut repeal occurred in conjunction with an agreement with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had been holding back the rebate checks, which were included in the budget that the Council had passed last June.
The vote occurred on the date when the mayor was due back in court to answer a lawsuit brought by five councilmembers, including Brooklyn City Councilmembers Vincent Gentile, Lewis Fidler and James Oddo, to compel the mayor to release the rebate checks. “I think we forced their hand,” remarked Fidler,.
But, the lawsuit was not dismissed, said Gentile. Rather, he stressed, the legislators who brought the suit had “asked for an adjournment till January 9th, to make sure the checks actually get sent out.
“The rebate checks had no tie to the property tax increase,” he added. “The mayor tried to make it seem that way, but the issue of the rebate checks was a legal issue, and those of us who took it to court believe he would have been compelled to release the checks, no matter what the council did on the property tax.”
The property tax repeal was opposed by eight Brooklyn councilmembers, including Gentile, Fidler and Oddo. Other borough councilmembers who voted against it were Simcha Felder, Charles Barron, Erik Martin Dilan, Mike Nelson and Diana Reyna.
Felder noted, when he cast his vote in opposition, “Today, the Council votes to take the bucket to the same old well and ask homeowners to bear the brunt of a swelling budget among dwindling revenues. I believe that is unacceptable and that will hurt all New Yorkers in this difficult time.”
“The mayor has been pushing to increase property taxes by seven percent since we passed the budget in June,” added Fidler. “The council resisted this, and I felt it was important that we continue to lay down a marker that we are not as anxious as the mayor to reach into the pockets of the taxpayer.”
“We’ve seen people getting hit with water rate increases, the high price of fuel and an increase in the overall cost of living,” stressed Gentile, who also pointed out that homeowners “stand to lose the STAR rebate checks from the state. When is enough, enough?” he demanded.
Fidler also contended that the $600 million that the repeal is expected to bring in could have been achieved largely by cutting non-vital expenses. The council, he stressed, had “proposed over half a billion dollars in additional cuts that don’t affect core services for New Yorkers, but the mayor hasn’t taken many of those cuts.”
In addition, both Fidler and Gentile said the city could have taken some funds our of a $2.6 billion “rainy day fund known as the health care trust fund,” as Fidler put it, that was created a few years back, and “funded with excess property tax revenues. The mayor proposed this year and next to take a whopping $82 million from that fund.”
Those who voted for the repeal of the tax reduction cited the necessity of making sure the city had enough funding to provide necessary services. Noted City Councilmember Bill DeBlasio, “In the interest of preserving our city’s vital core services, and ensuring the safety and well-being of all New Yorkers, I voted for this proposal. Not raising this revenue would put our city in jeopardy of returning to the dire fiscal times of the 1970s. The nation’s recession is already taking its toll on New York, and we cannot take any action that would support further decline.”
The council also passed an increase in the city’s hotel occupancy tax from five to 5.875 percent, a move suggested by Fidler, who says it could raise $80 million a year, though it would cost hotel guests only $2.62 per night for a $300 room.
“No one wants to impact negatively on tourism,” he said, “but I can’t imagine anyone coming from Japan prepared to spend $2,100 on a hotel room, who would decide not to come here now because it’s $2,120.”