Today’s news:

Avella joins lawsuit to restore tax rebates

City Councilman Tony Avella (D−Bayside) said he was one of five Council members to sign on to a suit filed against the city Finance Department following Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s recent attempt to rescind $400 rebate checks for city property owners amid a national economic downturn.

Avella, the only Queens Council member to join the suit, blasted the mayor’s proposal to halt checks for an estimated 600,000 city residents in an attempt to save a total of $256 million as the city faces huge budget deficits.

“It is absurd that Mayor Bloomberg believed he could withdraw the $400 property tax rebate that the City Council had already approved for the current fiscal year,” Avella said. “Families have already budgeted this amount and to arbitrarily decide to withhold this money is disgraceful.”

Avella said the mayor could not independently cancel the checks because the rebates had been passed by the Council in the city’s previous budget.

Other elected officials to sign on to the suit include Council members James Oddo (R−Staten Island), Vincent Ignizio (R−Staten Island), Lewis Fidler (D−Brooklyn) and Vincent Gentile (D−Brooklyn) as well as state Assemblyman Louis Tobacco (R−Staten Island).

A spokesman for the mayor said the administration hoped to come up with an “encompassing plan” to address the city’s struggling economy.

“We’re going to work closely with the City Council on plans to address the massive budget deficits caused by the financial crisis,” he said. “But we don’t think this should be a legal issue. It’s a financial issue.”

City Budget Director Mark Page had said at a recent Council meeting that the mayor would not be able to rescind the rebate checks without the Council’s approval. Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D−Manhattan) had also threatened to file suit if the checks were not sent out.

The checks, which city residents have received each year for the past four years, were originally initiated to offset an 18.5 percent property tax increase in 2002. The rebate checks are sent to owners of homes, condos and co−ops.

“This is the people’s money and government made a commitment, which they must live up to,” Ignizio said.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e−mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 156.

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