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NYC Public Advocate Sues, Seeks Data on Fines by City

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July 26 (Bloomberg) -- New York City Public Advocate Bill De Blasio sued Mayor Michael Bloomberg for information on fines, saying complaints by small-business owners show the city is seeking to boost revenue by increasing enforcement of regulations.

De Blasio said in a petition filed in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan today that since he took office two years ago, small-business owners throughout the city have complained of “overzealous enforcement of regulations and imposition of fines and violations for low-risk, first-time offenses.”

“These complaints reflect a pattern of increased enforcement of regulations by the Bloomberg administration in an attempt to boost City revenues during difficult economic times, without regard for the impact this policy is having on the city’s small-business owners,” De Blasio said.

The city has failed to provide information requested by the public advocate in May on fines, which doubled to about $800 million in 2011 from about $400 million in 2002, De Blasio said in the petition.

The city has received the petition and is reviewing it, Elizabeth Thomas, a spokeswoman for the city’s Law Department, said.

Many Complaints

De Blasio said in the petition that he received so many complaints that he had to set up a separate hotline dedicated to small business owners, who said that city agencies were citing and fining them for violations that had never been called to their attention. They also accused the city of imposing fines for low-risk, first-time offenses without asking for them to be corrected.

In one example cited by De Blasio, the owners of a family-run grocery store in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn were fined $750 for failing to post signs informing customers of their store’s return policy, even though it was printed on all receipts.

Marc LaVorgna, a spokesman for the mayor, said “restaurants are cleaner, construction sites are safer, fires have come down, and our streets are cleaner and safer than ever as a result of enforcing the regulations we have put in place and the laws the Council has passed.”

Actual fines increased to $859.4 million in 2012 from $478.6 million in 2002, an increase of $380.8 million -- $198.3 million of which is represented by violations from vehicle drivers, or about 54 percent, according to the mayor’s office.

Parking Tickets

The increase in motor-vehicle fines comes from higher penalties for parking tickets; more revenue from red-light tickets as more cameras are installed; tickets for violations of the city’s bus lanes, which didn’t exist in 2002; and more revenue from traffic court as the state has increased fines for moving violations over the past decade, the mayor’s office said.

The remaining $182.5 million increase can be attributed to enforcement of regulations and laws including building codes and construction violations, fire code violations, and more targeting of illegal tobacco sales, the mayor’s office said.

The mayor is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.

The case is De Blasio v. Bloomberg, 103374/2012, New York State Supreme Court (Manhattan).

To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Dolmetsch in New York at cdolmetsch@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

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