County misses $15 million payment to Miami Beach
By Susan Stabley
Miami-Dade County missed a Dec. 1 deadline to send Miami Beach $15 million because it doesn't have enough convention development money to cover the disbursement, according to the county's tax collector.
"We just don't have $15 million in reserve to make a cash payment," said Ian Yorty, Miami-Dade County tax collector. "We can't write a bad check."
The agreement for the funding was hammered out in early 2001, before the drop in convention development dollars that followed the 9/11 terror attacks, said Mr. Yorty. Before September 2001, that year's convention development tax was on track to bring in nearly $31 million. After that, the amount plummeted 17%, a difference of $5 million less in collections.
This year's projections for convention development tax revenue are at about $28 million, he said, and collections show a strong rebound from recent years.
But, he said, those tourist tax dollars being collected are all obligated to pay off bond debt and meet other contractual obligations.
Mr. Yorty said the county wants to meet with Miami Beach by the end of January to work out a plan. "We are very concerned about the Beach. We know it's our economic engine."
About 42% of tourist taxes come from South Beach hotels, he said.
The $15 million disbursement is not tied to any pledges for a proposed Florida Marlins baseball stadium that could be built with future convention development tax if the county and team owners agree on financing by March 15. Another $50 million for the Beach could be wiped out if the ballpark proposal moves forward.
"The $15 million is still owed to us," said Miami Beach Mayor David Dermer. "It's exclusive of any baseball issues."
That $15 million portion of convention development tax revenue, according to city and county officials, was tied to negotiations for the under-construction and over-budget Performing Art Center of Greater Miami, which also relies on convention development tax funds, and a regional library for Miami Beach.
Miami Beach officials have agreed to pay $2 million for new books and materials in the library at the Collins Park Cultural Center, according to a May 28, 2003, memo between City Manager Jorge Gonzalez and former county manager Steve Shiver.
In that same memo, Mr. Shiver said the payment would be sent to the Beach no later than Dec. 1.
Miami Beach commissioners are discussing the missed payment this week, according to city spokeswoman Nannette Rodriguez.
The money would be used for repairs and maintenance at the Miami Beach Convention Center, said its general manager, Doug Tober.
"About $17 million to $18 million in needed over five years, from carpeting to air conditioning," he said. At least four 12-ton air conditioning units need to be replaced, he said, coupled with many other smaller projects that "tend to add up."