Property owners skeptical of Gables tax rebate
By Risa Polansky
The Business Improvement District Inc. of Coral Gables will provide tax rebates to property owners in a gesture meant to ease financial woes — but landlords say the rebate will do little to calm an impending storm caused by rising property taxes.
Bassam Taha's property, 219-225 Miracle Mile, was valued at about $1 million in 1999 and about $2.5 million in 2005, a 150% increase over six years. His property was assessed this year at almost $4.6 million — an increase of more than 100% in one year alone, he said.
The $5,672 he paid in Business Improvement District taxes in 2005 and the $783 rebate he'll receive, he said, are inconsequential, like "wind in comparison to a hurricane."
Commercial property owners from Douglas Road to LeJeune Road and Aragon Avenue to Andalusia Avenue voted to establish the Business Improvement District in 1997, self-imposing a tax of $2.25 for every $1,000 of property valuation to contribute to promotional measures.
Since, business on Miracle Mile and surrounding areas has flourished due to various factors.
"In the last four to five years it's been a double-edged sword," said Mari Molina, district executive director. "The merchants are doing so well, property values have gone up, and the assessments are harder to absorb."
Of the 146 properties that make up the district, assessments on 50 went up 30% or more in the last year, the largest increase being 127%, Ms. Molina said.
Through the rebate, approved by the Coral Gables City Commission on Tuesday, property owners will receive proportionate shares of $100,000 earmarked for returns, meaning a business that pays 10% of the district's overall budget will receive 10% of the rebate fund.
Ms. Molina said the rebates will range from $13,800 to about $100.
To ease the growing financial burden of being part of the district, Ms. Molina said she hopes, in addition to the rebate, to next year establish a taxation system tied to ground-floor square footage of a property rather than assessed property value.
"We're trying to provide some relief to property owners because everything's been going up for them," Ms. Molina said.
But it's not Business Improvement District taxes that are imposing the real financial strain, Mr. Taha said, it's the property taxes themselves, combined with the current commercial windstorm insurance crisis.
He said when, early next year, property owners are forced to raise rent to compensate for this year's 100% increase in property value, tenants will be forced to leave.
"People will lose confidence in Coral Gables, tenants will start making other plans. Owners will be left with keys — are they going to ask the BID to promote empty buildings?" he said. "The best thing the BID can do is step up and protect Miracle Mile. This is a time bomb in the face of everything we have built in the last 15 years."