Liu says SE Queens small biz need help

By Rebecca Henely

City Comptroller John Liu told about 30 business owners in St. Albans Friday he was fighting to ensure they were not unfairly burdened by city government rules and could work to recover the city’s economy.

“The only way we’re going to bring ourselves out of this is by going to small business,” Liu said.

Joined by City Councilmen Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) and Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) and state Assemblywoman Vivian Cook (D-Jamaica), Liu spoke at the Occasions Banquet and Catering Hall, at 127-08 Merrick Blvd. in St. Albans, to members of the Greater Jamaica Development Corp. and the Jamaica Center Business Improvement District.

While there, Liu gave the southeast Queens business community an update on the city’s financial state and answered questions.

Liu said times are tough for the city. Unemployment is dropping, but is still high and three times higher among minority populations. Liu said that while minority- and women-owned businesses received $400 million in city contracts this year, that was not enough compared to the $18 billion the city awarded in contracts overall.

The comptroller also questioned the city’s spending money on consultants who take in high fees or have been stealing from the city. He mentioned William Lanhan, a consultant who allegedly stole $3.6 million from the city Department of Education, and the CityTime scandal that broke last year in which consultants paid to supervise the creation of a software program to keep track of the hours of city employees supposedly bilked the city out of $80 million.

“I think it’s really enlightening about the consultants in New York City,” Cook said about Liu’s comments.

Liu also went after the amount of regulations levied against small businesses, which some business owners who attended the event complained subjected them to multiple fees. The comptroller was especially critical of ticket blitzes, which he said are sometimes used for regulations that have gone enforced for long periods of time or are poorly understood. These can range from fees related to parking, sanitation or buildings.

“It’s unpredictable. It puts people out of business,” Liu said. “It creates nightmares.”

He said the city’s profits on parking tickets alone before the Bloomberg administration had been $200 million a year, but now are $1 billion a year.

Wills said the city leans on small business to get the economy out of the financial crisis, yet agencies burden them with violations to generate revenue.

“The challenge small businesses face have become more abundant because of the fiscal crisis they’re in,” Wills said.

Comrie also agreed with ridding small businesses of regulations that are overly burdensome or duplicated.

“Small business is the lifeblood of the city,” Comrie said. “It produces the most jobs.”

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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