City Reverses Course on Fees Charged to Chinatown Property Owners
The city has decided to credit property owners who were prematurely assessed fees for the newly created Chinatown Business Improvement District. Yesterday, neighborhood activist and building owner Jan Lee, other property owners and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund held a news conference on Mott Street to celebrate what they called a significant victory. They said the city only acted after they threatened legal action.
The city began charging for the BID last October even though the State Comptroller did not approve the new organization until January. Meredith Weber of the Department of Small Business Services told us yesterday:
BID billing has been adjusted, and began as of February, 2012. The amount to be charged for the fiscal year will be approximately $500K instead of $900K. Any property owner who has already paid the billed charges in full will receive a 4 month credit on their bill. Property owners in Chinatown will be notified of the assessment being charged and how the credit will be applied.
City officials and BID staff members say the error was simply a clerical mistake. But the property owners gathered yesterday – who opposed the creation of the business improvement district in the first place – argued it’s proof the BID can’t be trusted. Lee said the situation amounts to a “betrayal,” showing local elected officials, including City Council member Margaret Chin (a BID supporter) were failing in their “oversight” responsibilities.
Chin’s office released a statement, saying the city is addressing the issue and that she takes her role as a member of the BID board, seriously:
Like other elected officials, including the Mayor, I have a mandated seat on the BID Board. As a Board member, I will continue to represent the needs of small business owners and residents while supporting the BID in their efforts to improve the Chinatown community.
Property owners will receive their next statement in July. According to Wellington Chen, who’s handling day-to-day operations for the BID, the group won’t actually receive funding from the city until June. For now, the conflict seems to be resolved. But the episode makes it very clear the fledgling business improvement district has a watchdog — a group of property owners keeping an eye on its every move.