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Outer Boroughs Bear Brunt of Small Biz Fines, de Blasio Says

By Jill Colvin | February 21, 2013 6:31pm

CITY HALL — Restaurants and small businesses across the city have been socked with soaring fines in recent years, but the outer boroughs have taken the biggest hit by far, according to a new report from Public Advocate and mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio.

The report, which is based on public data that de Blasio sued the city to obtain, found that businesses in The Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens are far more likely than those in Manhattan south of 96th Street to face inspections and be slapped with fines and violations by the city's Health and Consumer Affairs departments.

"It's quite clear to me now why some people at City Hall did not want this information to come out, because it's very damning," de Blasio said at a press conference on the steps of City Hall.

"Outer-borough businesses, in particular, were inspected much more often and fined much more heavily than businesses in Manhattan," he said, dubbing the pattern "boroughism."

Overall, de Blasio also found that city Health and Consumer Affairs inspections have soared in recent years, with businesses across the city far more likely to be hit with violations than they were even three or four years ago.

As a result, fines have spiked from just $12.6 million per year a decade ago to more than $66 million today — providing the city more than an extra $50 million in revenue.

But a lot depends on where a business is located.

Businesses in Morrisania in The Bronx, for instance, were more than three times more likely to be inspected by the Department of Consumer Affairs in Fiscal Year 2012 than businesses in other neighborhoods, with 1,295 inspections logged for the neighborhood's 191 businesses. That's nearly seven inspections per business — far higher than the city average of 1.54 inspections in 2012, de Blasio's office said.

Central Harlem's 10030 zip code came in second, with the 33 businesses there inspected an average of more than six times each — well above the city's average. Harlem's 10026 and 10039 zip codes and Highbridge in The Bronx tied for third, with neighborhood businesses two-and-a-half times more likely to have been inspected than the city average.

The Department of Consumer Affairs fines businesses like supermarkets for violations such as failing to mark items with price tags and failing to display licenses in stores.

Outer borough businesses were also slapped with far higher fines by inspectors, according to the report.

Laurelton in Queens took the top slot, with the 67 businesses there paying nearly $254,00 — an average of nearly $4,000 per business — which is 5.8 times more than the city average of $447.

Rosedale, Queens and Woodlawn in The Bronx followed closely behind, with businesses there all paying more than three-and-a-half times the average rate.

When it came to restaurant inspections, the neighborhoods hit with the highest number of violations by the Health Department were concentrated in Brooklyn and Queens.

In Brooklyn's Prospect Lefferts Gardens, the worst offender, restaurants received an average of 26.63 violation points — nearly twice the average city total of 16.24 violation points. Similar numbers were also tracked in Bedford-Stuyvesant (26.40 violation points) and South Ozone Park (25.63 violation points).

Frank Franz, who chairs the Belmont Business Improvement District in The Bronx, said business owners in his neighborhood had noticed a "four-fold" increase in health inspections over the past two to three years, and warned that, as a result, businesses that have been around for generations are now struggling to survive.

"It's been a severe economic downward pressure on our community," Franz said of the violations, which he said were often "vague and nebulous."

Frank Garcia, chair of the state's Coalition of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, pointed to restaurants in Jackson Heights and The Bronx, which he said had recently been fined for minor offenses like keeping ice at the wrong temperature and setting tables with forks and knives hanging too far over napkins.

"They fine you just to fine you," he said.

Representatives from the city's Health and Consumer Affairs departments referred questions to the mayor's office, which did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A spokesman for City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, whom de Blasio also criticized for failing to do more to help businesses, declined to comment, saying the office needed to review the report.