Is It a Ticket or a Tax?

I have noticed a disturbing development that reflects poorly on any neighborhood: a dramatic increase in street corner garbage dumping; mountains of trash spilling out onto the sidewalk. This blight is unsightly, unhealthy and unsafe.

What should be done? Let’s begin with what I call “Clean Streets, Clean City!”

Dumping garbage violations should be strictly enforced with hefty fines. The Department of Sanitation should put all their efforts and resources into monitoring these problem corners, penalizing the guilty dumpers and promptly cleaning up the mess.

But rather than seeing this commonsense approach being taken, we see an increase in sanitation tickets being issued to private home owners and storekeepers.

I have long been involved with battling government’s unrelenting nickel-and-diming us to death with nuisance taxes, fees and fines of all sorts. So, let’s talk about these sanitation tickets.

Over my many years in office, irate homeowners and storekeepers incessantly complained about undeserved sanitation tickets. For example, a wind-blown tissue, coffee cup or other piece of trash found on your sidewalk, too often results in a $100 ticket. If you are a store owner whose freestanding street sign is 7 feet instead of 6 feet in front of your store, you will be slapped with a $100 ticket.

People are rightfully frustrated and furious! And, if you decide to take a day off to fight these ludicrous summonses, your reasonable explanations are usually summarily dismissed and you end up losing a day’s pay as well. The situation has reached a tipping point!

When I was on the City Council, I accepted the position of Sanitation Committee Chairman specifically to fight such injustice. At that time, agents were allowed to ticket you 24 hours a day. I succeeded in passing a law that dramatically improved things for homeowners and storekeepers. Tickets for litter in front of homes and stores can now only be written during a two-hour period: one hour in the morning and one hour at night or during specific store routing hours. That dramatically reduced the number of tickets issued. However, today, the city’s money grab continues unabated.

Fresh from defeat of the City’s outrageous plastic bag tax, which I fought tooth and nail, we continue to be subjected to more tickets that are really just more and more taxes — whatever it takes to pick your pocket and tax you further. To the average New Yorker, these hidden taxes are bad enough. But to our elderly, disabled, and struggling young families living on fixed incomes, they quickly become crushing, budget-busting burdens.

I ask you: “Is it a ticket or a tax?”

Taxes are levied without warning. Tickets, on the other hand, are meant to discourage certain behavior. The unrelenting issuance of $100 sanitation tickets, without warning, to individuals who in many cases are completely unaware that they have even done anything wrong, is just a tax, not a ticket.

The fine is out of line. This unfair situation must end!

I am therefore proposing that the following new sanitation legislation be passed by the incoming New York City Council:

When a violation is first observed, individuals will be issued a pink slip written warning.

This “warning” is a detailed description of the violation plus a picture of the unsanitary/dangerous condition, with 24 hours to correct the violation. (The technology has been available for some time.)

Upon re-inspection, if the violation has been corrected, the warning will be dismissed.

If, however, it persists, then a fine not to exceed $50 will be assessed. After all, fines for red light speeding camera violations are $50. Metered parking violations are $35.

This commonsense legislation, along with stricter enforcement of garbage dumping, would eliminate much of the anger and frustration by catching and penalizing the real culprits who are creating the filthy corners that spread garbage. It would further increase neighborhood safety and cleanliness through education rather than penalties and taxes.

Our Constitution guarantees us “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Restoring balance and fairness to the administration of justice, especially on the local level, will ensure a happier, healthier citizenry and a cleaner, safer environment.

And isn’t that what government should be about?

I will continue to be at the forefront of these and other quality-of-life issues. I look forward to your comments and support.