Public Advocate Bill de Blasio

Bronx and other merchants drowning in mounting city fines are hoping a lawsuit by the city’s Public Advocate will bring them some relief.

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio is taking the Bloomberg Administration to court to get it to show exact numbers – and why the merchants were fined.

A number of merchants groups across trhe borough had plenty of complaints over city fines.

The lawsuit, filed July 26, charges the city refuses to release data on what de Blasio called “ever increasing” small business fines from a variety of agencies in “fine-based enforcement.”

He said the city has doubled its revenue from small business fines to over $850 million last year while supposedly “business-friendly” Bloomberg has been in office.

“Fines have been increasing for so long it’s become de facto city policy,” said de Blasio. “We need answers about what this ‘fine-first, ask questions later’ enforcement is doing to our small businesses and their ability to survive in this economy.”

DeBalsio filed suit under section 24 of the City Charter which grants the Public Advocate “timely access to those records necessary to complete investigations, inquiries, and reviews.”

He said his office contacted six city agencies May 8, and requested full-disclosure and breakdown of fines issued, based on type of business, category of violation and community.

Businesses are often fined hundreds of dollars for things as minor as music heard in the doorway outside a store, said Medina Sadiq, executive director of Southern Boulevard Business Improvement District.

“It appears to me that every time the city is at a deficit, they look to small business to close the gap,” said Sadiq. “The fines that come from agencies like the Department of Consumer Affairs and Sanitation are outrageous. I am glad the Public Advocate is looking at the fairness of the fines and seeing if they are duplicitous or mean spirted.”

Throggs Neck Merchants Association president Steve Kaufman charged that the city creates a hostile environment for small businesses, in stark contrast to business friendly places like Texas and Florida.

“They make it impossible to start a small business, and then harass the owners with outrageous fines, regulations, and rules from different city agencies,” said Kaufman. “Then if the businesses are fined, they are threatened with exorbitant penalties and interest if the city is not paid promptly.”

Kaufman suggested small businesses should only have to visit a single city agency for licenses, instead of many individual agencies in what is “a time consuming process.”

Many businesses on the busy Fordham Road shopping strip receive fines for such things as litter in front of their store, said BID deputy executive director Daniel Bernstein, even with the BID’s cleaning crew.

He said the BID tries to stay on top of any changes to city rules and regulations “and let the businesses know what they are.”

More education for merchants is needed, he added, even though the city has come up with some innovative new programs to help businesses get started.

A spokeswoman for the city Law Department said that the corporation counsel was reviewing the lawsuit.

Patrick Rocchio can be reach via e-mail at procchio@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3393

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