Gotham Gazette

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Stated Meeting: Electrical Code, Property Taxes

Every two weeks the New York City Council holds its "Stated Meeting" to introduce and pass legislation. As a regular feature, Gotham Gazette covers these meetings.

The City Council passed a bill making various changes to the electrical code at its most recent stated meeting on November 29, 2006. Under the bill, balconies, decks and porches would be required to have outlets, a safety measure intended to cut down on the dangerous practice of stringing extension cords from indoor outlets. The expiration of electricians' licenses would be staggered to avoid the annual backlog that starts December 31, when every single license in the city expires. Several other changes would also be made regarding the processing of applications and other documents, and the operation of emergency generators.

Council Speaker Christine Quinn made a valiant effort to add some life to an otherwise obscure, technical topic. The requirement for outlets on porches, she pointed out, will "allow for much more holiday lighting to be displayed."

The council passed the legislation unanimously, and it will become law if signed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. But not everyone could muster up Quinn's enthusiasm.

"In my five years at the council, this was easily the most tedious topic I've sat through," said Councilmember Lew Fiddler.




The council also passed three resolutions that together shift $127 million in tax burdens from homeowners to commercial property owners this year. The move is essentially a formality, the final step in a yearly process through which the city asks the state to allow it to change tax rates.

The average annual saving to single-family homeowners will be $87. Even though the decrease will be offset by a relative tax increase for commercial property owners, the council says that commercial rates will remain lower than last year. Supporters of the bill say such a move is justified because commercial property tax rates are lower than residential rates, and because commercial real estate values have increased more rapidly than residential values in recent years.

Several council members voiced displeasure with wider issues related to the tax code. Councilmember Alan Gerson described the code as "too complex" and "too filled with inequities and unfairness," including cases where people living in similar properties pay widely divergent tax rates.

"We need to move forward with real property tax reform," he said, "and should aim to implement reform before the end of the fiscal year."

Gerson voted for the resolutions, as did several other council members who made similar statements, including Fiddler, Peter Vallone, and Michael McMahon. The three Republicans in the council, James Oddo, Andrew Lanza, and Dennis Gallagher, voted against the measure. The final vote on all three resolutions was 46 to 3.  

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