Tax cuts in Tallahassee could lead to business improvement districts
By Risa Polansky
Property owners likely will become more willing to pay for infrastructure work through business improvement districts should impending tax-reform measures cut into a city or county's ability to provide services, said Marcus Aurelius James, project manager in Miami's economic development department.
"With cutbacks in local governments that may be coming, there will be less municipal resources," he said. "With the rollback, we have an opportunity. We're going to be trying to establish more BIDs (business improvement districts) through the city."
In an improvement district, property owners vote to tax themselves to fund area enhancements and marketing efforts.
A business improvement district has been behind the beautification and promotion of downtown Coral Gables for 10 years, and the Coconut Grove Business Improvement Committee is working on establishing a formal district.
Soon, more property owners citywide "won't mind paying for things they're actually going to see," Mr. James predicted.
Some are already at that point, property-tax cuts or not, said Bob Powers, vice president of operations for the MiMo Biscayne Association, which is considering establishing a self-taxing district through the Miami Modern historic district, Biscayne Boulevard from Northeast 50th to Northeast 77th streets.
While some view the boulevard "as like I-95, if you live here, that's like our main street — it's like our Miracle Mile. The city's never going to make available the funds we'll require to get this the way it needs to be," he said. "The reason we want to go for this is because we can't count on the city to do it for us. They (property owners) know if we want something to change here, we're going to have to fund the change."
The group has not formally gauged area property owners' interest in self-taxation but "they come to our meetings," Mr. Powers said.
Establishing an improvement district is "something we're investigating," he said. "We need to get more read on it, then bring it to our group."
Downtown business owners are considering the option along with the Downtown Development Authority, Mr. James said. He said discussion is "very preliminary."
Board members of the Coconut Grove committee voted last week to proceed with the second phase of their district establishment program, granting consultant Daniel Biederman $15,000 to partner with the committee in surveying property owners, identifying necessary improvements, drafting a budget and undergoing the legal district establishment process, among other services.
In his phase one report, Mr. Biederman suggested capital improvements, sanitation and security receive the bulk of the first three years' funding.
The report's schedule of remaining tasks indicates an assessment method to be chosen by July and the official start-up of the district to kick off by January.
Coral Gables' business improvement district, which assesses taxes based on property valuations but may move to a square-footage method this year, faces its state-mandated reelection this summer.
Executive Director Mari Molina fears that the legal requirement that a majority of all property owners vote to extend the life of the district could mean its death, as voter apathy or ignorance could lead to a significant number of absent ballots.
Mr. Collins said that while it is a concern as Coconut Grove heads toward its election, "we have the optimism of innocence just beginning the process."
He plans, along with the committee's board, to generate extensive discussions with and among property owners to foster education and garner support.
However, "it's extremely important at some point soon that the Florida statute enters the next stage off evolution," so that it, instead of discouraging those with a vested interest, "penalizes apathy," he said. "I look forward in the future to working with the Coral Gables BID to help change the state statute."
Mr. James agreed that the method "can be a little more user-friendly."