The following is a press release from the office of Councilman Vincent Gentile:
COUNCILMAN GENTILE VOWS TO END CITY’S ASSAULT ON SMALL BUSINESSES
BAY RIDGE – Addressing a room full of business leaders at the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, Councilman Vincent J. Gentile vowed to put an end to the City’s assault on small businesses through several pieces of “common sense” legislation.
“As many of you know, my district office in Bay Ridge is a storefront on Third Avenue. I am surrounded by restaurants, small retail stores and other mom & pop businesses. I hear what they’re going through with City agencies and they are not happy,” Councilman Gentile said. “There’s a place for enforcement of consumer rights and health standards but there is absolutely no place to turn enforcement responsibilities into revenue collection responsibilities. I am very concerned that the Departments of Health and Sanitation have become little more than extra tentacles for the City’s revenue collection.”
“We cannot squeeze small businesses to create revenue for the City,” Councilman Gentile continued. “The Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) expects to earn $10 million+ in revenue from fines in fiscal year 2012 – that’s nearly $4 million more than two years ago. This is outrageous and it has to stop.”
Most DCA fines are for easily correctable violations such as printing errors on receipts or insufficient signage. “The barber shop next door to my office has been in business for 40 years and never received a fine until last month,” Councilman Gentile said. As of this month, the barber shop is closing its doors and we’re losing another small business on the avenue. “This is an all-out assault. We need to end the harassment and return to what’s fair.”
Last year, Councilman Gentile introduced a bill to give fraternal & non-profit organizations time to correct DoH violations before fines were issued. Councilman Gentile is now looking into drafting legislation which would give all businesses the chance to correct simple DCA or DoH violations before fines are imposed.
When you do receive a legitimate fine, Councilman Gentile feels store owners should be able to contest fines online or by mail or phone. As it stands currently not all City agencies allow this. CM Gentile is looking to legislate this if the agencies don’t change their procedure first.
The former prosecutor then lambasted the New York City Board of Health’s letter-grade restaurant inspections saying he thought the system itself was positive but that he was extremely concerned with the wave of complaints his office has received from local restaurants – even the ones who earned A’s – about fairness and inconsistencies throughout the inspection process. “Enforcement cannot vary depending on the whim of the inspector,” he said. “There needs to be a set standard.”
“We need to stop this ‘gotcha’ mentality once and for all,” the Councilman said. “Most of these agencies and their systems make sense on paper but when there is no standard in practice, it betrays the trust of the consumer and the business owner.”
CM Gentile strongly supports educating the general public about the sanitary conditions of our City’s restaurants but we must not forget the impact that an unfair low grade will have on our small business job creators. “There is a considerable stigma attached to a receiving a below average scarlet letter,” Councilman Gentile said. “We need to balance both these concerns by ensuring that the Department of Health’s evaluation process is fair and consistent across the board.”
“The bottom line is: We cannot squeeze small businesses to create revenue for the City and over the next year I plan to draft, sponsor and support as much legislation as possible in order to enforce ‘common sense’ solutions for our City’s small businesses.”