City Council takes rebate battle to court

December 11, 2008 4:12:01 PM PST
The battle over New York City's $400 tax rebate to homeowners is heating up Thursday. Some City Council members took the fight to court, hoping to force Mayor Bloomberg to pay out millions in rebates. But the mayor claims the city simply cannot afford it while at the height of an economic crisis.

On the north end of Staten Island, in just one block, we found different opinions on whether Bloomberg is right to withhold the rebate.

"We are in a crisis right now," homeowner Tom Miller said. "I feel that the city needs every penny that they can get, and I'm whole-heartedly for the mayor."

Yet Mller's neighbor says she could really use that money right now.

"That extra $400 will be able to heat my house and feed my children," Karen Cino said.

By withholding all those rebate checks, City Hall will save $256 million.

"At the moment, we don't have any money," Bloomberg said.

He says times have become so tough that something has to give.

"Make no mistake about it," he said. "I would like to send out the checks."

The City Council, though, is trying to force the mayor to make good on his promise. Members say Bloomberg's budget problem are about next year, not right now. And they claim you can't just change the rules whenever you want.

"And that's really what it comes down to, that the mayor cannot unilaterally change the law," City Councilman Vincent Gentile said.

Yet even 311 city operators are towing the mayor's line. Here's one call from Thursday morning.

"It was just okayed by the Department of Finance that the $400 city property tax rebate would not be issued for this year," the operator said.

Now, a handful of Council members are saying hold on. They suing the mayor, demanding those checks right now.

"It's shocking the mayor is behaving in such a scrooge-like fashion on the eve of Christmas," the City Council's attorney, Randy Mastro, said. "He's legally obligated to do it, he's mandated to do it."

Right now, it looks a little doubtful those checks will come before Christmas. A state supreme court judge on Staten Island granted the city a one-week delay. He said he had hoped the mayor and City Council could reach a compromise. If not, they're back in court next week.


STORY BY: Political reporter Dave Evans