$eventh cents! Merchants want new tax to keep avenue clean

Seventh Avenue is filthy!
Photo by Alice Proujansky

Seventh Avenue business owners are moving ahead with a plan to levy a new tax to clean up Park Slope’s main shopping strip after city officials failed to properly do the job.

Dozens of business owners will set up a Business Improvement District board this week — the first step in creating such a district to impose a tax on building owners to supplement declining city services such as trash pick-ups and, possibly, security.

After the board is formed, half of all building owners along a yet-to-be determined geographical stretch between Flatbush and Prospect avenues must agree to a tax levy of roughly $300 per storefront per year.

Those who object can fill out a city form and file it with the city clerk, but few business owners in Park Slope are expected to do so.

“There’s a lot to gain from the pooling of resources and the amount of money it generates,” said Mitch Szpicek of the Park Slope Chamber of Commerce, which will meet to form the BID board.

The push comes five months after elected officials chose not to renew a contract with a non-profit that hires homeless men to collect street trash. Critics say that the existence of such a program revealed the dirty secret of city services: their quality is declining.

Indeed, city trash collection has not proven to be frequent enough to keep the restaurant- and retail-lined street clean — and trashcans have been overflowing.

Since business improvement districts became legal in the early 1980s, more than five dozen BIDs have been created in middle- to upper-middle-class neighborhoods all over the city. They generate $100 million in supplemental taxes — money that is not subject to the same public review as other taxes.

Generally, such funds provide marketing, street improvements such as lighting and extra sanitation efforts.

Once a BID is formed, owners of all the 350 storefronts along Seventh Avenue in Park Slope would need to pay the tax — a rule that was controversial in Fort Greene, where some merchants claim they don’t get enough bang for their buck.

A business improvement district along Park Slope’s Fifth Avenue was less controversial.

Jason Daniels, president of the Park Slope Chamber of Commerce, did not return calls seeking comment on Monday — but former president Szpicek noted landlords have plenty to gain from a cleaner and more vibrant neighborhood.

“It just makes sense,” he said.

The Seventh Avenue BID proposal was floated in 2010. Park Slope already has a Chamber of Commerce and a Civic Council, both of which survive on contributions from the neighborhood.

Reach reporter Natalie O'Neill at [email protected] or by calling her at (718) 260-4505.