Monday, February 09, 2009

Hey, Bloomie -- Call Off the Dogs!

New Yawk City, the metropolis spanning these Minor Outlying Islands, is run by a businessman, and a pretty good one, who takes an appropriately businesslike approach toward city finance.  That is to say, he encourages city agencies to collect taxes, fees and so forth, since these are how the city pays its bills. They call it "stepping up enforcement," which sounds like a good idea.  At first.

But here's the thing about American business:  it doesn't mind lying to get your money.  Think of all those robocallers offering to consolidate your non-existent debt, or help you refinance the home you don't actually own.  Or think of Enron, if that's easier.  Or Bernie Madoff.

In the last week (or perhaps ten days), Father A.'s splendid little parish has received three dunning notices from various government agencies, all of them specious if not fraudulent.  To wit:

1.  A $100 violation for ice on the sidewalk after the last snowstorm.  Well, there wasn't any.  Our sexton, armed with a brand new snow-blower, a battery of shovels, and enough calcium chloride to turn melt Greenland, works during and every every storm to keep a clear pathway, even when the neighbors can't be troubled.  Our sidewalks are immaculate.  But since we don't take dated photographs of every snowfall, to submit as documentary proof that an over-zealous sidewalk inspector had lied on his report, we paid the hundred bucks rather than spend a day in court playing "he said, she said."  Probably a mistake.

2.  A $350 notice for back taxes.  We don't get many of these, being tax-exempt, but they do occur -- payroll taxes, in this case, with a tab of about $350.  At this moment, our parish secretary is looking at the check stub for those fees, which were paid long ago.  (This is actually a federal tax, so we can't blame Bloomberg.  That we know of.)

3.  This morning, a sternly-worded note from the Law Division, requesting payment of a $250 violation order.  It would be long overdue, if of course we hadn't paid it already.  On Father A.'s desk, at this moment, is a carbon copy of the money order he used to pay it, in person -- eleven months ago.

All this is routine.  A few years ago, the Dept. of Sanitation gave us a series of violations, all with a price tag, for leaving garbage out in front of the apartment building next door -- the one we don't own, have never owned, and with which we have no relationship at all.  Last year, there was a violation for the graffitti that an inspector reported observing on our walls.  It would have been a serious problem (we Lutherans really don't care for graffitti -- too wild for our taste).  But as we pointed out to the appropriate agency, there was no graffitti, and there had never been any graffitti.

(All this is apart from some longstanding FDNY and DOB concerns about our school building, which are -- at least arguably -- valid, although even there we have found the inspectors to be wildly unprofessional.  One fellow just comes every spring and screams.  Another dropped by, told us our building was fine but that it would never be approved because his new department head was motivated by political ambition, rather than the actual rules.  A third found the previous year's paperwork signed with his own name, but in somebody else's handwriting.  And when we have attempted to work constructively with the various commissioners, in their offices, the buck-passing has been a marvel of passive aggression.)

Now, we can't say for sure why this sort of thing happens, and the reasons probably vary -- from poor record-keeping and outdated computer systems to dyslexic inspectors.  But it wastes our time, and the time of the agencies we call to complain.  And, of course, it involves a certain amount of outright lying.  Which is immoral. And in any case, it can't possibly make the city as much money as it costs.

So here's what we think about "stepped-up enforcement" right now.  It's a scam, and we're getting a little sick of it.  The mayor has rigged a rule change to run for a third term and frankly, given some of the competition, we had considered giving it to him.  Right now, we would feel as though we were voting for the Robocaller voice.

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