Miller Questioned On ‘Obscene’ Property Tax
"Why did we get hit with an obscene 18.5 percent property tax?" United Community Civic Association President Rose Marie Poveromo asked City Council Speaker Gifford Miller at UCCA’s first meeting of 2004 last Thursday. The question was particularly pointed since Mayor Michael Bloomberg promised a $400 tax rebate to homeowners would be included in his $45.7 billion budget when he addressed an UCCA meeting last year.
"We had the city’s worst fiscal crisis in years," Miller replied. Miller was the featured speaker on a panel including state Senator George Onorato, Assemblymember Michael Gianaris and City Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr., at the meeting at Atonement Lutheran Church in Astoria Heights.
The 18.5 percent property tax increase was approved in November 2002 to help bridge a $7.5 billion gap worsened by falling tax revenues and mounting expenses during the period after September 11 that cost the city economy $120 billion.
"We were bombed and we lost thousands of people. You can never put a price on that," said Miller, the successor to Peter Vallone, Sr. and a potential mayoral candidate in 2005. City officials recently confirmed that 2,749 people died at the World Trade Center.
Miller said of the $20 billion President George W. Bush promised in federal aid to the city after September 11, $5 billion has been received.
In addition, Miller said although the city budget was $42 billion last year, the city council could control only $15 billion in spending, the rest going to fund-mandated programs, for example, Medicare which requires $4.1 billion.
Of the $15 billion in discretionary spending, Miller said 70 percent pays the salaries of police officers, firefighters, teachers and sanitation workers. Miller said $3.5 billion was cut from the city budget last year but was necessary to preserve needed levels of service in the city. Citing the mayor’s attempt to cut sanitation pick-ups last year as an example of service cuts, he said, "People went wild."
Asked about the $400 rebate, Miller said, "If we can afford to do it, I’d certainly like to do it." He cautioned, however, that the money would be lost for city services. "We can go back to (a reduced) 20,000 police officers and close all the parks," he warned.
Property taxes paid by owners of 950,000 parcels of land in the city bring in about $12 billion in revenues, the biggest contribution by taxpayers toward the $45.7 billion budget.
The 18.5 percent tax rise increased the annual bill for a $245,000 single family home to about $2,200 from $1,850, a jump of $350, while the owner of a cooperative worth $360,000 paid approximately $600 more for a total of about $5,000 in property tax with the hike.
The $400 rebate will go to 600,000 owners of one-, two-, and three-family homes, cooperative apartments and condominiums, excluding apartment building and business owners as well as all apartment renters.
"I have no desire to raise taxes," Miller said, adding, "There are a lot of people really struggling and we’d like to bring relief to them as quickly as we can."