Miami-Dade Property Appraiser Pedro J. Garcia will have a county attorney and the state attorney general’s office review a controversial agreement requiring the City of Miami to pay county taxes on four garages where 5,700 parking spaces have been leased to the Miami Marlins baseball team.
A compromise plan that could offset the tax bill by raising leasing revenue to the city was rejected by the Marlins baseball organization, he disclosed to a West Kendall audience on Nov. 30.
According to Garcia, the subject “pretty much exploded just three days before Thanksgiving” when Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado asked for the county appraiser’s view of the tax obligation.
Regalado said the city would be liable to pay projected annual county taxes estimated at $1.5 to $1.6 million yearly on the four garages adjacent to the new Marlins Stadium.
Garcia said he knew nothing about the taxing issue “until stopping at the Versailles Restaurant [Nov. 22] when suddenly a Channel 41 news team and a gang of reporters surrounded me, asking me all kinds of questions, as if I was the president at a news conference!”
On Nov. 23, The Miami Herald published a Page One headline: “Garage tax tab could cost the city millions,” reporting that the city leased all 5,700 parking spaces to the Marlins at $10 per space in four garages,” a disclosure “flabbergasting” Mayor Regalado who initially opposed building the stadium with public funds.
The agreement applies to all 81 home baseball games and any other event the Marlins might hold or sublease — from car sales to a rock concert — because taxes would only be exempt if a public use was served, Garcia said.
“To receive a tax exemption, any municipal property must only be used for public purposes and clearly, permitting the Marlins to charge for garage parking is a commercial use, as applied to a potential exemption,” Garcia explained.
“The Marlins or its designate can charge whatever they want for parking: $15 or more, and pocket the difference between $10 and whatever is charged,” said Garcia who disclosed a compromise he suggested to Marlins president David Samson in a preliminary discussion about the tax.
“Basically, I recommended increasing the rental charge from $10 to $12.75, additionally raising approximately $1.5 to $1.6 million that would come very close to offsetting the projected taxes for the city,” he explained.
“Applied to 81 games at 5,700 spaces, the leasing fees of $12.75 would offset a $1.5 million tax — although with the Marlins retaining 250 spaces for their own use, the amount is only an estimated return. Nevertheless, I thought that would give the Marlins an opportunity to benefit publicly through a willingness to compromise.
“But when asked if the Marlins might consider that suggestion, I was told ‘no.’”
Having the public pay taxes on garage space leased to the baseball club for profit has created a new uproar among many already opposed to stadium funding, Garcia acknowledged.
“Everywhere I go, I get asked the same question,” he said. “What are you going to do? Well, I’ll tell you that I intend to move very slowly on this issue,” he declared.
“I have six months until next June before approving the 2012-13 tax roll. For that reason, I am going to turn the assessment issue over to my attorney and the state attorney general to review the legality of the agreement before making any further decisions.”
His free-ranging comments preceded a barrage of questions from the Citizens Advisory Council, including whether a potential civil action would exist if the tax payments would contravene interpretation of existing statutes disallowing such an arrangement.
“If so, I will abide by whatever the court decides. You must follow what the law says and, if it says I must add those taxes to the county tax roll, they will be added,” he said, noting the taxing issue was never raised with him during the two-year negotiations between the City of Miami and Marlins to build the stadium.
The Marlins’ unwillingness to change the provision remains the latest “thorny issue” for county and city, Garcia noted. The stadium contract has been criticized ever since allocating $487 million of public money for the $642 million privately owned facility.