Miami missing $337,719 in impact fees as statute of limitations running out
By Jacquelyn Weiner
While the City of Miami faces deepening budget concerns, several area contractors are sitting on impact fees totaling more than $337,000 that have been due since 2005 — and time for legal action is running out.
Although the city has collected $958,227 of the original $1.08 million that was not collected, it is still out $337,719 in overdue impact fees, said Orlando Toledo, senior director of building, planning and zoning, at Thursday's city commission meeting.
The initial problem was caused by two employees in the Office of Zoning who plugged an incorrect number into the formula used to calculate impact fees, causing the city to collect less than it was actually owed, Mr. Toledo said in an interview.
"After we found out what was going on, we went ahead and laid off those two people and that was the end of it," Mr. Toledo said.
But that was not the end of the ordeal for the city's Finance Department, which has been sending out collection letters since the city began to pursue repayment.
Four years later, legal action has become the final hope for collection, Mr. Toledo said.
Yet by now, some of the cases may not be pursuable because they have passed the statute of limitations, which is four years from the initial due date, said City Attorney Julie Bru.
"We're looking at it on a case-by-case basis." Ms. Bru said. "We will take all required legal action on those that we can still file the suit on."
Commissioner Marc Sarnoff said in an interview after the meeting that to his knowledge, none of the fees has reached a statute of limitations.
Legal action was also considered when the problem arose, Mr. Toledo said, but the city decided it was best to avoid placing liens on the property and stick with collection letters to "see how many [contractors] would come to the table," he said.
"We wanted to first give them a chance to comply," Mr. Toledo said.
The city attorney may now look into placing liens on the owners of the properties, he said.
At the time, sending letters to the contractors was the appropriate route because the city has collected money in some cases that would not have held up in court, Ms. Bru said.
Mr. Sarnoff disagreed, saying far too little action has been taken.
"The City of Miami is horrible about collections," he said.
The most alarming part about these overdue impact fees, Mr. Sarnoff said at Thursday's meeting, is that many of the contractors are still operating in the city.
"These are viable contractors," he said.
According to a February 2009 city memo, 26 contractors owed overdue impact fees ranging from $121,351.86 to $120.54.
The $121,351 was owed by Melo Contractors, according to the memo.
With the exception of Keystone Construction, which is repaying its $28,472.17 debt at a rate of $2,000 a month, no progress has been made since the February memo, Mr. Toledo said.
Keystone's debt is the third largest, preceded by $86,607.99 owed by Coastal Condominiums.
At the time the debts were incurred, all the contractors were working on private projects, Mr. Toledo said.
Mr. Toledo said he was unsure whether any of the contractors have worked on projects for the city since then.