Put money back into the hands of people

By Warren Schreiber

The property tax system in this city has been broken for decades.

It’s no secret. I’ve known about it since I became president of the Bay Terrace Co-op 20 years ago, and my neighbors feel the pinch of it every month when they pay their maintenance bills, which includes the tax.

It’s also no secret that the city has been reluctant to do anything about it other than pay lip service to protecting the middle class. Fortunately, after years of neglect, homeowners could be on the verge of getting some well-deserved relief.

The City Council recently proposed a $400 property tax rebate to all homeowners making under $150,000 as part of their response to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s preliminary budget. I know I’m not alone when I say that’s a great idea. My neighbors, the people who live in my co-op, are seniors on fixed incomes, teachers, firefighters and single moms. For them, an extra $400 could pay for groceries, doctor’s bills or new clothes and shoes for their kids.

Unfortunately, Mayor de Blasio — who would need to approve the property rebate plan as part of the budget process — said last week that the $400 rebate is a non-starter because he doesn’t “see” the resources in the city’s $89 billion budget to pay for it.

I say we get him a pair of glasses.

His refusal to even entertain the notion of a property tax rebate for homeowners came just days after Council Speaker Corey Johnson announced the Council’s plan. Instead of opening the door to having a conversation about a rebate, he basically slammed it shut.

That’s not right. There should always be room for discussion — especially when it comes to a rebate that would be paid for, at least in part, through property tax money the middle class has been sending the city Department of Finance for years.

I understand reforming tax law and changing property valuation formulas is a complex process that won’t happen overnight, but my neighbors in Bay Terrace could use the relief now. Forty percent of what our shareholders put into our budget pays for property taxes. This year, the initial valuation assessment for our co-op – the figure property taxes are based on – went up 11 percent. Which means our bills went up, and for many of us, that’s really tough to keep up with.

It’s not fair, and it’s gone on for too long.

This is why Johnson’s rebate proposal is such a good idea. It’s not going to fix everything. It’s not meant to, but it lets us know he’s actually serious about doing something.

It’ll put money back into the hands of people who, if we’re being fair about it, shouldn’t have had to fork over the money as part of their tax bills in the first place.

Warren Schreiber is president of Bay Terrace Cooperative Section 1.

More from Around New York