GUEST OP-ED: It’s time to end the assault on small businesses

As most of you know, my district office in Bay Ridge is astorefront on Third Avenue. I am surrounded by restaurants,independent retail stores and other mom and pop businesses. I hearwhat they’re going through with city agencies and they are nothappy.

There’s a place for enforcement of consumer rights and healthstandards but there is absolutely no place to turn enforcementresponsibilities into revenue collection responsibilities. Thepurpose of enforcement is to get people to obey the laws, not toraise revenue.

We cannot squeeze small businesses to create revenue for thecity. The Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) expects to earn $10million+ in revenue from fines in fiscal year 2012 – that’s nearly$4 million more than two years ago. This is outrageous and it hasto stop.

Most DCA fines are for easily correctable violations such asprinting errors on receipts or insufficient signage. The barbershop next door to my office has been in business for 40 years andnever received a fine until last month. As of this month, thebarber shop is closing its doors and we’re losing another smallbusiness on the avenue.

This is an all-out assault. We need to end the harassment andreturn to what’s fair.

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to speak to a roomfull of business leaders at the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. Itwas there that I vowed to put an end to the city’s assault on smallbusinesses through common sense legislation.

Last year, I introduced a bill to give fraternal and non-profitorganizations time to correct Department of Health (DOH) violationsbefore fines were issued. I am now looking into draftinglegislation which would give all businesses the chance to correctsimple DCA or DOH violations before fines are imposed.

When they receive a legitimate fine, store owners should havethe chance to contest the fine online or by mail or phone.Currently, not all city agencies allow this. I will legislate thisif the agencies don’t change their procedure first.

DOH’s letter-grade restaurant inspections system was a good ideabut I am extremely concerned with the wave of complaints my officehas received from local restaurants – even the ones that earned As- about fairness and inconsistencies throughout the inspectionprocess.

Enforcement cannot vary depending on the whim of the inspector -there needs to be a set standard. We need to stop this ‘gotcha’mentality once and for all.

I strongly support educating the general public about thesanitary conditions of our city’s restaurants but we must notforget the impact that an unfair low grade will have on our smallbusiness job creators. There is a considerable stigma attached to areceiving a below-average scarlet letter. We need to balance boththese concerns by ensuring that the DOH’s evaluation process isfair and consistent across the board.

The bottom line is that we cannot squeeze small businesses tocreate revenue for the city. Over the next year I plan to draft,sponsor and support as much legislation as possible in order toenforce ‘common sense’ solutions for our city’s smallbusinesses.

Vincent Gentile represents the 43rd CouncilDistrict.

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