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Stated Meeting: Tax Breaks for Industry

by Courtney Gross, Sep 29, 2008
 Looking to save millions –albeit years from now – the City Council approved legislation on Wednesday that revises the city’s industrial and commercial development incentive program to further limit what type of projects can receive a tax break.

The new program is expected to save the city millions in future years.

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The council also approved a street renaming bill and designated nonprofit recipients for several discretionary, citywide initiatives, which had not been solidified at the time of the city budget’s passage in June.

Tax Breaks

Following the state legislature’s lead, the council approved the Industrial and Commercial Abatement Program ( Intro 822-A) – formerly the Industrial and Commercial Incentive Program – by a vote of 49 to 1. Councilmember Vincent Ignizio cast the lone opposition vote.

City officials had long criticized the older incentive program as being expensive and not cost effective. In 2007, according to a report from the Independent Budget Office, the program cost the city $500 million in tax revenue.

While the city would like to continue to encourage commercial and industrial development, officials believe the program had to be revised and pared down. At the behest of the Bloomberg administration, the state approved a revised program in June, and the council followed last week.

The newer program will change how tax breaks are disseminated to commercial or industrial developers. Under the old program, tax breaks were based on a project’s assessed value – like a standard deduction on income taxes. Under the new program, a break will be based on a property tax bill and act as a tax credit. It will also be set by the property tax rate when a building permit was first issued, unlike the old program which fluctuated with each year’s tax rate.

The program will also limit what kind of retail establishments are covered and no longer cover utility companies. While utility companies account for 1 percent of exemptions, according to the Independent Budget Office’s report, their breaks comprise 19 percent of the cost of the program.

The disqualification of utility companies sparked this reaction from Con Edison:

“The council’s action (last week) merely reflects a bill passed by the state legislature in June,” said Joe Petta, a spokesman for Con Edison. “We believe that bill could have a negative impact on our ratepayers, but we haven’t yet determined to what extent.”

The new program decreases, from 12 to 10 years, the amount of time a development located in between Murray Street and 59th Street in Manhattan could qualify for the tax break, under the presumption that area is already a desirable place to develop.

The program is concentrated in the outer boroughs. Any industrial or commercial building that is rehabilitated, modernized, constructed or renovated is eligible. For more on the program, go here .

Financial Disclosure

The City Council approved several budget modifications last week, which formally earmarked discretionary funding to scores of nonprofit groups for initiatives, such as domestic violence, empowering women and afterschool programs.

The modification also rescinds funding for seven groups that originally had been slated to receive discretionary funds. Groups that lost funding are: Alliance for Community Services, City College of New York Center for the Study of Harlem, Queens Community Board 3, Bergin Basin Community Development Corporation, Council of Jewish Organizations of Flatbush and the HOPE Program.

Most of the modifications, according to a council spokesperson, were misappropriated initially or were done at the request of the sponsoring member. The allocation for the Alliance for Community Services, which was sponsored by Councilmember Maria Baez, was rejected by the Mayor's Office of Contract Services.

These appropriations have been under greater scrutiny lately, because of the council’s slush fund scandal.

The council appropriated nearly $4 million for an afterschool cultural program, as well as programs on financial literacy and healthy aging.

Street Naming

Twice annually, the council approves memorial designations for the city’s streets, often eulogizing fallen heroes. While the street naming process has been controversial – once councilmember unsuccessfully tried to rename a street after the controversial figure Sonny Carson – last week’s bill sailed through smoothly.

The bill was approved by a vote of 49 to 0, with one abstention by Councilmember Jessica Lappin.

The bill (Intro 825 ) names a corner in Brookyln after fallen firefighter Joseph Graffagnino, who died in the Deutsche Bank blaze last year, and 145th Street in Harlem after the late A. Phillip Randolph, a civil rights and labor leader. Other advocates and community leaders received the honor throughout the city. A full list is available here.

Arbitron Resolution

The City Council also approved a resolution (Reso 1583-A) calling for the Federal Communications Commission to investigate the biases of Arbitron’s radio data collection system.

Arbitron, which collects ratings data for radio stations, has been a target of the City Council’s ire. Its people meters – which are worn by surveyors and pick up local radio stations -- are biased and disproportionately benefit top 40 stations, according to Speaker Christine Quinn.

Amicus Brief

The council also approved a resolution (Reso 1612) giving Quinn the go-ahead to file an amicus brief in favor of plaintiffs suing the city’s Rent Guidelines Board. The council alleges the board overstepped its power by applying an extra increase on certain renters who have lived in their residences for more than six years, which, they argue, effectively creates a new class of renters.

Only the council can approve new classes, it argues.

Due to an error in documents distributed by the City Council, when this article was first published it said a corner in Queens would be named for Joseph Graffagnino. The corner is actually in Brooklyn.  


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