By JONATHAN LEMIRE | AP
NEW YORK (AP) -- The New York City letter-grade restaurant system has been revamped by the City Council with an eye toward easing the burden of fines on restaurant owners.
The changes will maintain the grading system implemented by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg but will add consistency to fines given out during inspections, according to City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. The new provisions could reduce overall city revenues earned by fines by up to 25 percent annually.
"This provides much-needed fine relief," Mark-Viverito said Friday. "It shows we cans treat restaurants fairly without compromising public safety."
The changes fulfill a campaign promise by Mayor Bill de Blasio and are another example of the administration and the City Council marching in lockstep. Close political allies, the speaker and the mayor each connected the changes to the fine structure to their focus on the city's less fortunate.
"We heard from innumerable small business owners of unequal treatment," said de Blasio after an unrelated press conference in Manhattan. "We want to change orientation of city agencies from a punitive one of educating and working with small business."
The restaurant letter grade system was implemented in 2010, marking restaurants on an A to F scale and requiring the scores to be posted prominently in the restaurant, though eateries that score below a C tend instead post a sign that indicates that the grade is being appealed.
The grading system will remain, as well the frequency of inspections. But restaurants can now request free inspections that do not result in fines. And, if a standard inspection shows a violation, it is easier for restaurant owners to fix the mistake and have the fine cancelled.
Additionally, the monetary amounts of fines will be stabilized; previously, they could fluctuate by hundreds of dollars depending on the judge who heard a restaurant owner's appeal.
"We want to balance safety and fairness," said Mary Bassett, who was appointed city health commissioner by de Blasio last month. "Our goal is to achieve more transparency."
In 2010, the city raised $32.8 million in restaurant fines. Two years later, it reached $52 million. Due to previous adjustments approved by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, that revenue began to decline a year ago. With the new changes, the overall fines are expected to drop $20 million a year from their high-water mark.