Gotham Gazette

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Stated Meeting: Con Edison Rates and Reporting on Pesticides

In its latest evidence of displeasure with Con Edison, the City Council approved a resolution endorsing Council Speaker Christine Quinn's efforts to become an active party in the debate over the utility's proposed rate hike. At its stated meeting on October 17, the council also approved stricter reporting standards on the city's use of pesticides, closed a tax exemption loophole for a housing program and approved several modifications to the budget.

Blasting Con Edison

In May, Con Edison proposed a rate increase that would bump up residential customers' bills by 17 percent and commercial customers' bills by 10.7 percent next year. The proposal is currently before the state Public Service Commission, which must approve the utility's rate hike.

By giving Quinn the go ahead to join the commission's proceedings, the council would be privy to hearings, notices and documents regarding the rate increase. The resolution doing just that (Res. 1059) was unanimously approved by a voice vote.

The council's decision to formally join discussions regarding Con Edison's rate proposal is just one more example of the clash between the council and the utility. Prior to the resolution's vote, Quinn responded to the recent suggestion that the utility company would sue the city, claiming it was responsible for a steam pipe explosion this summer. In a letter to Con Edison, Quinn and Consumer Affairs Committee Chairman Leroy Comrie questioned the utility's evidence suggesting that leaky water pipes might have caused the blast.

"We've seen over the past year and half some stunning failure on the part of Con Edison," said Quinn in a press conference prior to the meeting. "In response to those actions most people would put their nose to the grind and try to do a good job. Con Edison, instead, has requested a 17 percent rate increase from their customers."

Members of the council came out against the rate increase last month, stating Con Edison would have to detail its capital expenses and provide better service before it is rewarded.

Use of Pesticides

Following up on a bill passed in 2005 that limited the use of pesticides in the city, the City Council approved legislation (Intro 612) that would clarify how the chemicals' use is monitored and reported. The bill was approved by a vote of 49 to 0.

Currently, the law requires city agencies to summarize the use of pesticides within their department and provide that information to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the speaker of the City Council. The new legislation, which was sponsored by Councilmember James Gennaro, would also require the commissioner of the health department to submit an annual report summarizing pesticide use by all city agencies to the speaker.

"While the current law already prohibits the use of certain toxic chemicals by city agencies, today's legislation will allow the department of health to better and more efficiently evaluate agency use of pesticides in our communities," said Health Committee Chair Joel Rivera in a prepared statement.

Revising the Budget

As part of Quinn's budget transparency initiative, the council also released several revised budget documents that reveal the recipients of funding for large, citywide budget initiatives. The revisions (Res. 1090) were approved by a vote of 48 to 0.

When the budget was approved in June, the council released a list of member items – programs and initiatives that received grants in this year's budget – and included the name of the individual councilmember who proposed them. Gotham Gazette analyzed this list and revealed that programs proposed by Councilmember David Weprin had received the most funding. (For a full breakdown of who received the most, or the least, amount of funding in June click here.)

This new release details which organizations received city funding for broader initiatives, like a homeless prevention initiative proposed by Councilmember Annabel Palma. In June, the documents only listed the title of the citywide program and the amount of funding. Now, the document reveals which organizations will receive funding, how much they will receive and what councilmember proposed the initiative.

The council also released the names of organizations that received funding from the council members' discretionary funds dedicated to programs under the purview of the Department of the Aging and the Department of Youth and Community Development. Each member can dole out $151,714 for youth programs in his or her district and $108,750 for senior initiatives.

Closing A Tax Exempt Loophole

Under a program within the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, homes in poor condition can be purchased by the city, rehabilitated and sold to an individual who meets certain income restrictions. That owner would also receive a 10-year tax exemption.

Currently, if the owner were to resell the home, the second owner would also receive the tax exemption, regardless of income and assets. The council voted 49 to 0 to approve a rule change that closes this loophole. The tax exemption now terminates as soon as the home is sold to a second owner.

Public Plazas

The council also approved by a vote of 49 to 0 an amendment to a rezoning resolution (Res. 1103) that makes privately owned public plazas more inviting to the public. According to a City Council press release, the amendment will update design standards, including restrictions on size, seating, lighting and bike parking, and attempt to preserve and incorporate the character of the neighborhood.

Medical Examiner Redefined

To update the definition of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, the City Council approved legislation (Intro 604) that includes responsibilities the position has acquired over time. As technology progresses, the office has taken on larger tasks that are not reflected in the City Charter, such as DNA and forensic testing. The legislation, sponsored by Rivera, reflects and updates the office's responsibilities.




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