By Rebecca Henely
City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio characterized Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration as bilking small businesses through fines in a talk at LaGuardia Community College last Thursday with members of the New York City Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s because the city wants revenue,” de Blasio said. “Fine first, ask questions later became the policy.”
The mayor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
De Blasio spoke to an audience of more than 50 small business owners at the college, at 31-10 Thomson Ave. in Long Island City. The chamber services all businesses throughout the city and Dr. Gail Mellow, president of LaGuardia, said the college has long been committed to boosting small business entrepreneurs.
“Community colleges are really what create the middle class in New York City,” Mellow said.
De Blasio said fines on small business owners through various city departments, such as Transportation, Environmental Protection, Sanitation and Health and Mental Hygiene, amount to $820 million a year, which he said is double the amount of fines the agencies collected 10 years ago, although inflation has not risen to that level and more people are not breaking the law.
He said this is because in the economic downturn, the city agencies have been told to collect revenue by any methods necessary, but this means that businesses often get hit in the pocketbook.
“I’d like to see a notion that the citizen is right,” de Blasio said.
De Blasio said he would like to propose a series of changes to how the city conducts its fines on small businesses. He said foremost business owners should be able to fight fines via phone or the Internet and not have to miss days of work that could cut further into their potential earnings. He also said agencies should be willing to give warnings for problems on the first offense.
“I’d like to see educate first, fine as a last resort,” he said.
De Blasio said given the economic crisis and that the city’s unemployment rate is at almost 10 percent, it is important for the city to help its small businesses as much as it can.
“The question we face in our city is how to prepare our people to be economically successful in our changing world,” he said.
Nick Lugo, president and CEO of the chamber, said he could understand how many business owners feel they have not been able to have a good relationship with the city government because of the fines levied on their business.
“We want to feel at home and make sure we’re not discriminated against by paying more than we have to,” he said.
Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4564.