Photo by Rebecca Henely
By Rebecca Henely

City Councilmen Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) and David Greenfield (D-Brooklyn) joined with the heads of nonprofits at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria Tuesday to announce legislation against a proposal to have nonprofits and cultural institutions pay for their trash pickup.

“It is a wrongheaded policy at a very difficult time,” Van Bramer said.

After the city Sanitation Department proposed that groups located in buildings with property tax exemptions would be charged a service fee for their garbage collection, Greenfield introduced legislation in February exempting nonprofits.

The councilmen said the proposal would cost nonprofits a collective $17 million, even though Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed budget already has $50 million in cuts to cultural institutions and the arts.

“To add on to those cuts, the new trash tax is really outrageous,” Greenfield said.

The department did not respond to requests for comment as of Tuesday afternoon press time.

Last week, Van Bramer added amendments to the bill that would extend exemptions to numerous cultural institutions. The bill’s current language includes nonprofits, houses of worship and nonprofit corporations that operate public libraries, museums, botanical gardens, zoos, memorials and other facilities.

Van Bramer said 35th Avenue in Astoria — which is not only the home of the Museum of the Moving Image but also Kaufman Astoria Studios, a movie theater, two schools and many restaurants — is a strip where the city has invested money. He said cultural institutions like the museum draw people who want to live in the city, employ its residents and help the economy.

“They’re all doing incredible work that keeps our city the cultural art mecca of the world,” he said.

Bishop Mitchell Taylor, founder of the East River Development Alliance, which operates multiple programs to help public housing residents in western Queens, said exemptions help his organization do the work it needs to do and that the exemptions should be considered grants to help the organizations.

“I think it’s important for us to go back to why nonprofit status was established in the beginning,” Taylor said.

Sheila Lewandowski, founder of the Long Island City theater The Chocolate Factory, said arts organizations struggle to keep their programming going, but exemptions and funding from the city, state and foundations help subsidize that. To be forced to divert the money would hurt the organizations and those who work for them, she said.

“Don’t take the money out of the artist’s pocket,” Lewandowski said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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