Before you can fully understand the pernicious role that business improvement districts play in our city, let’s review the indisputable facts:
Residents and business owners pay taxes to support a broad range of city services, among them sanitation, police, school construction and even promotion of our neighborhoods to tourists who might come here and spend money.
This is the social contract; you pay your share and, in theory, everyone gets equally clean streets, responsive security, well-tended parks, new schools and all the other great things that city government can accomplish.
Unfortunately, the city often breaks this contract by failing to provide services at level of quality that the public deserves. In poor neighborhoods, residents are stuck to suffer with this outrage.
In rich neighborhoods, businesses create “business improvement districts,” which levy an additional tax that is then used to provide some of the services that the city has failed to provide.
Meanwhile, the city never learns its lesson. Services suffer, but the residents best-equipped to complain — the well-to-do — don’t bother to demand better results from their elected officials because their needs are being taken care of by their business improvement district.
Such well-off residents of the city probably never even notice the small fees that their local businesses add onto every item or restaurant check. And if they do notice the higher cost of things, well, they check their property values in the Sunday Times and don’t give it a second thought.
So of course Mayor Bloomberg touted the creation of the Atlantic Avenue Business Improvement District last week. Why shouldn’t he? He just saved himself — and the agencies he commands — the headache of actually doing their jobs.
Indeed, the mayor must be relieved now that there are 66 business improvement districts — the vast majority of them in rich neighborhoods. That’s 66 neighborhoods that won’t be complaining about declining city services.
From where those people sit — on Easy Street — this city must look like a perfectly run place.
It is anything but.
This opinion piece was written by the editorial board of Courier Life.