New Rochelle, Mayor Noam Bramson and City Council Sued in Federal Court for Racial and Ethnic Discrimination Over "Garbage Tax"

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NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- A group of New Rochelle landlords and tenants has filed a complaint in federal court accusing the City of New Rochelle and New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson along other current and past members of the New Rochelle City Council of racial and ethnic discrimination in implementing an unconstitutional garbage-collection fee.

Talk of the Sound has confirmed the case (Clinton Place Owners, Inc. et al v. City of New Rochelle et al) was filed on June 4, 2013 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Federal Judge Vincent L. Briccetti presiding. The Journal News first reported on this story today. Talk of the Sound has obtained a copy of the complaint which was filed in federal court last Tuesday.

The lawsuit revolves around a controversial "garbage tax" adopted by the City Council in In December 2011. The Council resolution was based on a FY 2012 budget proposed by City Manager Chuck Strome which proposed the "elimination of property taxpayer subsidy of sanitation operations, through an increase in the residential refuse fee of $257.00 per dwelling unit per year".

"The fee is without regard to the actual cost of trash collection", said David Finger, the attorney who filed the complaint for the plaintiffs.

"The people living in multifamily housing are paying a disproportionate portion of overall trash-collection" said Finger. "These people happen to be disproportionately minorities."

The case follows an Article 78 filing in 2012: New Rochelle Resident, Steve Mayo Files Court Action to Block Mayor Bramson's Illegal Garbage Tax

The budget stated:

To help address the projected shortfall, the FY 2012 budget proposes to increase the residential refuse fee from $66 per residential unit per year to $223 per unit per year (qualifying senior citizens will continue to pay $30 per unit per year). This increase will cover our full refuse collection and disposal costs and will generate an additional $4.2 million in revenue that would otherwise be covered by a tax rate increase or by service cuts deeper than those proposed.

The court filing asserts that the garbage fee was a discriminatory tax, designed to circumvent the 2011 Tax Levy Cap or "Tax Cap" signed into law by Governor Andrew Coumo:

The cost of refuse removal and disposal in 2012 (through October 25, 2012) was $3,668,303. Based on the cost of refuse removal and disposal through October 25, 2012 the estimated cost of refuse removal and disposal for 2012 is anticipated, as of October 25, 2012, to be $4,493,056.00 ($3,668,303.00/298*365). The total anticipated collections from the residential refuse fee for 2012 was $6,091,000.00 (2013 proposed budget dated October 25, 2012). There is an apparent and anticipated surplus of revenues over costs for refuse collection of $1,597,944.00 for the year 2012.

The complaint alleges the City violated the Fair Housing Act of 1968, the Civil Rights Act of 1968 and that the tax is discriminatory, violating the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

You can read a copy of the entire complaint here.

The parties to the lawsuit are as follows:

30 Clinton Place Owners Inc., 35 Clinton Place LLC, Franklin 44 Realty Corp., Faymor Gardens Associates LLC, Pel 300 Associates, Stonelea Place LLC, White Oak Cooperative Housing Corp., Laurence watkins, David Kulian, Frank Tuck, Desiree Simmons, Plaintiffs
v.
City of New Rochelle, Noam Bramson, Mayor of the City of New Rochelle, Albert Tarantino, New Rochelle City Council Member, Jared R Rice, New Rochelle City Council Member, Barry R Fertel, New Rochelle City Council Member, Marianne L. Sussman, Former New Rochelle City Council Member, Louis Trangucci, New Rochelle City Council Member, Richard St. Paul, Former New Rochelle City Council Member, Shari Rackman, New Rochelle City Council Member, Ivar Hyden, New Rochelle City Council Member

The plaintiffs are seeking compensatory damages and attorney fees against the defendants and each of them in their individual capacities as well as actual damages, including but not limited to a refund of all Residential Refuse Fees Collected and injunctive relief to stop the City from collecting the "garbage tax" and declaring the Residential Refuse Fee of $223.00 per residential housing unit illegal, null, and void.

Is is (once again) the policy of the City of New Rochelle not to respond to requests for comment from Talk of the Sound but the JN is reporting that City Manager declined their request for comment.

An interesting item in the lawsuit is a claim that the New Rochelle Municipal Housing Authority which is exempt from paying real property taxes to the City of New Rochelle has not been invoicing or collecting the Residential Refuse Fee from the New Rochelle Municipal Housing Authority. The NRMHA is not exempt from paying "use" or "user" fees in the City of New Rochelle for services provided for which "use" or "user" fees are charged by the City of New Rochelle, according to the complaint.

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