Miami Beach

Unpaid developer fees on Wednesday’s agenda for Miami Beach commission meeting

Unpaid developer fees and concepts for a planned makeover of North Shore park are on the agenda for the Miami Beach commission’s finance and citywide projects committee meeting Wednesday.

The committee, made up of Commissioners Deede Weithorn, Ed Tobin and Micky Steinberg, will convene 2 p.m. at 1700 Convention Center Dr.

In September, city staff revealed the results of an eight-month internal review of the city’s “fee in lieu parking” program, or the system for developers to pay a fee for each parking space they can’t provide. The review found that during the course of the program’s two-decade existence, poor management and shoddy record-keeping led to the city failing to collect about $19 million in fees.

Three audits — in 1997, 2003 and 2010 — highlighted some of the needed improvements in billing procedures, and city administrators started billing some businesses who owed fees. According to records of meetings held after the completion of the 2010 audit, commissioners told administrators who were aware of some of the billing issues that they favored backing off trying to collect from businesses and re-examining the policies instead, saying they didn’t want to create more hardship for businesses in the middle of the national recession.

At the time, Commissioners Weithorn and Jonah Wolfson participated in discussions about how to deal with unpaid fees without squeezing businesses too hard in order to encourage economic growth. Wolfson supported a moratorium on collecting fees while the city considered adjusting the policy. In particular, he opposed billing businesses that had moved into existing buildings for years of fees due to changes of use.

In October, commissioners told staff to come up with a fair and realistic plan for the city to collect as much as it can, with Wolfson echoing his previous concern for hurting small businesses.

“I don’t think we should be enforcing parking impact fees on a small business in such a way that’s going to put someone out of business,” he told the Miami Herald on Tuesday.

According to a memo from City Manager Jimmy Morales, administrators are recommending the city close the accounts for businesses that no longer exist and writing off their balances as not collectable and writing off balances prior to 2009, citing the statute of limitations. Staff is also recommending the city invoice accounts from 2010 to the present, finalize any settlements for the release of funds held in escrow as a result of deals made with a handful of developers, and forgive interest and penalties for payments invoiced before Oct. 1 because of a problem with the city’s financial accounting system.

For those who refuse to pay under the conditions outlined in the recommendations, the city would be prepared to sue.

Weithorn, chair of the finance committee, said she supports the administration’s recommendations. She said she does see a need for the landlord of some businesses who have moved into existing buildings, like a new store who requires more parking, to pay the fee.

She feels it may require a case-by-case to review to be fair.

In other business, the committee will also see a presentation of concepts for upcoming renovation of North Shore Open Space Park and discuss fees for the city’s sidewalk cafes.

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