It was the Boston Tea Party all over again on the steps of City Hall Tuesday as Queens civic leaders joined their counterparts in the other boroughs and City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) in a rally for "no taxation without representation."
About two dozen people gathered in support of Avella's Fair and Open Tax Act of 2003, a measure that would require the Council to conduct public hearings in the five boroughs 120 days before passing any future property tax increase.
"If there is taxation, let there be public representation," said Avella, who proposed the law in response to the Council's swift passage last fall of an 18.5 percent property tax hike with minimal public comment.
Avella, one of three Queens council members who vote against the tax increase, is pushing the measure along with the Real Estate Board of New York, which represents major property owners, developers and real estate brokers.
The board has organized a coalition of 78 civic and real estate groups citywide under the banner of Taxpayers for an Affordable New York, with several member organizations from Queens.
Avella is pursuing the Fair and Open Tax Act on two tracks via ballot initiative and legislation on the council floor.
Any proposed ballot initiative must go through the mayor's charter review commission since a change to budget hearing procedures would require an amendment to the city charter.
Real Estate Board President Steven Spinola said his group would meet with the commission, collect petition signatures and fund ad campaigns in support of the Fair and Open Tax Act.
Spinola said his organization was willing to spend "whatever it takes" in support of "what is clearly just (a) good-government" proposal.
"The Real Estate Board of New York, along with the organizations behind us...is committed to forcing this debate on the question of a public process," said Spinola.
Avella also submitted his legislation to the Council's legal office, which reviews proposed council laws for correct language, but said the office rejected the bill.
The councilman said he was still waiting for an explanation for the bill's rejection but continued to press for a ballot initiative, believing a charter amendment was required anyway.
So far, seven other council members have signed on to Avella's proposal, including some who voted for the original property tax increase.
The council members joining Avella are Dennis Gallagher (R-Middle Village), John Liu (D-Flushing), Hiram Monserrate (D-Corona), James Oddo (R-Staten Island), James Davis (D-Brooklyn), Erik Martin Dilan (D-Brooklyn) and Andrew Lanza (R-Staten Island).
Eliott Socci, president of the Douglaston Civic Association, said he came to City Hall because he believed the property tax "was done in a high-handed way."
"The effect of the 18.5 percent followed by an increased tax assessment to 25 percent was too much in one shot," said Socci.
Nagassar Ramgarib, a Queens Village resident who represented the Queens Civic Congress at the rally, said the high percentage of single-family homes in the borough gave the umbrella group of more than 100 local civic associations a special interest in the tax act.
Kim Francis, president of the Concerned Citizens of Laurelton, said her community was up in arms over the tax increase because of the high number of seniors on a fixed income in the area.
"Not only are they on Social Security, but now they have to pay a tax increase," said Francis, who attended Tuesday's rally.
Also speaking in support of the measure was Oddo, who voted against the property tax increase.
Budget changes involving millions of dollars normally come after "hours and hours of testimony, hours and hours of hearings," said Oddo. "When we voted for a property tax increase...we shifted a billion plus without any public testimony."
Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 1-718-229-0300, Ext. 146.
©2003 Community News Group
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