The check ain’t in the mail for homeowners-Community backlash for mayor’s $400 property tax rebate ax

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Mayor Michael Bloombergís controversial plan to axe the $400 property tax rebate appears to have tripped over itself.

Opposed by residents, the measure also has proven to be extremely unpopular with city councilmembers who appear to have been right when they said that they need to approve any such change.

Indeed, the mayorís Budget Director, Mark Page, admitted as much when he testified before the Council earlier this week.

Some Brooklyn councilmembers were among those leading the charge.

City Councilmember Domenic Recchia put up an online petition in favor of distributing the rebate checks that, basically through word-of-mouth, logged over 3,000 signatures in just three days.

ìThe question,î Recchia remarked when he launched the petition, was, ìDoes the mayor have the right not to release money that he and the council approved? $259 million is not a lot of money. Iím saying, letís send out the rebate checks, then talk about what to do next year.î

Other councilmembers ñ including Vincent Gentile, who represents Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst ñ are filing a lawsuit which, if successful, would compel the city to send out the checks.

ìMy contention,î Gentile noted, ìis that since we voted to have it part of the budget, he canít unilaterally change that.î The mayorís efforts to rescind the rebate, he said, were, ìLike saying, ëRemember what I said last year, just forget about it.í

ìWe made a commitment to people who are now counting on the promise we made,î Gentile stressed. ìTo have the city renege on this promise is untenable.î

Even if the $400 rebate goes out to homeowners, one unresolved question is what will happen to Bloombergís proposal to rescind the seven percent property tax cut enacted several years back.

That, too, appears not to be finding favor with councilmembers, many of whom are looking at re-election campaigns next year.

ìThereís no question that everybody knows that the economy is terrible, but the thing he has to remember is that people are suffering as well,î stressed City Councilmember Simcha Felder, who, in September, sent a letter to the mayor that was signed by 19 of his colleagues stating opposition to rescinding the rate cut.

The letterówhich was also signed by Brooklyn Councilmembers Gentile, Kendall Stewart, James Oddo, Sara Gonzalez, Darlene Mealy and Letitia James -- reminded the mayor that it was homeowners to whom the city turned during the last fiscal crisis. ìWe need to think twice before we lower the cityís bucket into the same old well, again and again,î the letter said.

Rescinding the seven percent tax rate cut is ìsomething people canít absorb,î Felder contended. ìA lot of people literally are struggling to make ends meet.î

ìGiven the current atmosphere on the council, I think the mayor or his advisers have a tin ear if they think this will sail through,î noted Gentile. ìI canít see much support for it now.î

Felder agreed. ìI believe city councilmembers, especially those with large numbers of constituents who are homeowners, are obligated to do whatever they can to make sure it doesnít go through,î he said.

The mayor made his initial proposals to axe the rebate and rescind the seven percent tax rate cut as part of an effort to close a $4 billion shortfall now projected for Fiscal Years 2009 and 2010.

Bloomberg has since said that if the rebate checks are mailed out, the city will have to cut elsewhere to make up the difference.

Updated 3:43 pm, October 19, 2011
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