Last Thursday, DC37, New York City’s largest municipal public employees union, along with several other labor unions and community groups, held a hearing focusing on ways the city could generate revenue and avoid budget cuts.
Executive Director Lillian Roberts started the hearing by saying, “Too often, the search for solutions to the city’s budget problems focuses primarily on layoffs and reduced funding for city services and pension and civil service changes. However, research and analysis has revealed that, in addition to reining in the city’s costly, out-of-control contract budget, it is critically important to focus on the way in which the city collects revenue.”
Joined by the likes of Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, New York State Sen. Kevin Parker, New York City Council Member Jumaane Williams and representatives from NYC Accountants, Statisticians and Actuaries Local 1407, the hearing concluded that $1 billion in additional revenue could be obtained by the city if it followed through on initiatives like collecting taxes from cell phone antennas and billboards that the city is legally entitled to and properly monitoring tax exemptions granted to businesses and for-profit institutions.
This week, Mayor Michael Bloomberg will present a $66 billion plan for the 2012 fiscal year to the City Council. Bloomberg, who planned on announcing the budget on Thursday, delayed the unveiling to Friday so it wouldn’t interfere with President Barack Obama’s visit to Ground Zero. The budget is expected to include teacher layoffs and cuts to senior citizens’ centers and libraries.
“What we face is not a deficit problem but a revenue problem,” said DC37 Associate Director Henry Garrido at the hearing.
As a result of Thursday’s hearing, the New York City Council held one of its own on Monday at the former Emigrant Savings Bank building in Lower Manhattan. Roberts testified at that hearing.
“The integrity of the tax roll is as critical to the functioning of city government as any other part of its system,” said Roberts. “After all, how will city government continue to run if we don’t know the resources we have and need to operate? Equally as important, however, is the need for our taxpayers to have the confidence that our system of taxation is based on fairness and not the politics of influence.”
Roberts also told the council that, in order to balance the city’s budget, Bloomberg continues to make cuts to vital services including education, childcare, libraries and the fire department. That’s why she says it is “imperative” that the city tries to maximize revenue first before looking to cut anything else out of the budget.
“For the past eight years, District Council 37 has been pushing for a more focused review of our property tax system and for the hiring of the necessary staff to monitor the process effectively,” said Roberts. “The response we have received from the administration is that technology, and not staffing, is the solution to the problems we have experienced. As a result, the city has spent millions investing in software and hardware systems only to realize that the complexity of our tax system can never be captured by technology alone. Given the problems highlighted in the press in recent weeks, the need to have qualified professionals to review the assessment has never been greater.”
Fran Schloss, president of DC37 Local 1757, which represents assessors, appraisers and housing development specialists, also spoke at the City Council hearing. She works as an assessor for the city and had some advice on how to fix some problems in New York State law regarding condominiums and co-ops.
“Firstly, as long as it is required by New York State law to value condominiums and cooperatives as if they were income-generating rental apartment buildings, a truly fair and equitable assessment will not be obtained,” said Schloss. “State law needs to be rewritten so that condos and co-ops are valued based upon sales. After all, each individual unit of a condo and co-op may be bought and sold independent of all other units.
“The law as it stands is, therefore, disadvantageous to co-op and condo owners,” she concluded.