Taxes, regulations top list of concerns
By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli met with a group of small business owners in Bay Ridge on June 14, assuring the merchants that they had a sympathetic ear in state government and promising to do what he could to make their lives easier.
There’s good reason to promote small business, according to DiNapoli, who said they provide thousands of jobs across the state.
Small businesses and non-profit organizations are creating a lot of jobs for New York residents right now, according to DiNapoli, who said the hiring spree is providing a boost for the state’s economy. “These are sectors that are growing,” the comptroller told the business owners at a breakfast meeting at the Bridgeview, a diner on Third Avenue.
DiNapoli came to Bay Ridge at the invitation of Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny (D-Bay Ridge-Coney Island). DiNapoli spent the day on Friday touring Brook-Krasny’s assembly district. Bay Ridge was their first stop on the tour. The two men served in the assembly together before DiNapoli was elected state comptroller.
DiNapoli said he wanted to meet with small business owners so that he could find out from them what their concerns are.
Justyna Bolbotowski, a vice president of Chase Bank, suggested that DiNapoli do more to educate residents who are thinking of opening up small businesses. “I think the state should be more pro-active in terms of what is required of one opening a business. The rules and regulations, taxes and fees should all be explained so that people don’t get caught unaware,” she told the comptroller.
Some business owners are unaware of what taxes have to be paid and when, Bolbotowski said.
DiNapoli said he provides resources on his website, but added that the state could do a better job of directing potential business owners to the right places for information. “The resources are there (on the website), but you have to know about it,” he said.
“Sounds like a good idea for a bill,” Brook-Krasny said. He said he would consider legislation to make to easier for business owners to educate themselves on the rules and regulations required.
Bob Howe, president of the Merchants of Third Avenue business group told DiNapoli that overregulation on the state and city levels was hurting small business and stunting economic growth. “Overhead is a killer. Regulations are a killer,” Howe said. “Many of our merchants are getting second jobs. They have to take outside jobs so they can keep their businesses going. It’s a shame,” he said.
Store owners also fall victim to conflicting regulations from city agencies and don’t know which agency to obey, Howe said. “The Fire Department says one thing and the Buildings Department says another,” he told the comptroller.
Sandy Vallas, owner of Vallas Real Estate, a Bay Ridge-based real estate firm, said he believed food trucks were a major problem in the community. “They’re popping up unjustly,” he said.
The food trucks constitute unfair competition to “brick and mortar” establishments, according to Vallas, who is a member of the board of directors of two business improvement districts. The food truck operators, while regulated by the city, don’t have to answer to as many rules and regulations as restaurants do, he said.
In addition, property owners face problems because of the food carts, Vallas said. “The food carts can set up anywhere they want. You have a food cart set up on the sidewalk in front of a building, without the landlord’s consent. You know the landlord doesn’t own the sidewalk, but he is responsible for it. If someone falls and gets hurt because the food cart guy dropped something on the sidewalk, who gets sued?” Vallas said.
Brook-Krasny agreed that something should be done to protect brick and mortar businesses. “You have to level the playing field. It’s a big issue,” he said.
DiNapoli said he would have an aide contact the city’s Department of Buildings to determine the regulations.
DiNapoli spent the first part of the meeting describing his job responsibilities to the business owners.
“It’s the least glamorous job in state government,” he joked.
The comptroller is a watchdog over the state finances, DiNapoli said. His office keeps track of the tax dollars coming in as well as the state’s expenditures, conducts audits to “make sure your tax dollars are not being wasted,” and manages state pensions.
DiNapoli is also charged by the state with the task of holding onto “unclaimed funds,” monies from dormant bank accounts, life insurance policies, etc. If an account is inactive for a period of years, the bank or insurance company is mandated by law to turn the account over to the state. “Some of these accounts date back to the 1940s,” the comptroller said. His office holds onto the funds until they can be retuned to their rightful owner, he said. The office is currently holding $12 billion in unclaimed funds, he said. Last year, $300 million was returned.
“There is no charge for this,” DiNapoli said, adding that if a resident can prove they have a right to the funds in an account, the money is returned by the state free of charge.
For more information on how to retrieve unclaimed funds, visit the comptroller’s website at www.osc.state.ny.us, or call 1-800-221-9311.