The ripple effects of former Miami City Commissioner Alex Díaz de la Portilla’s suspension for corruption charges continue.
In a letter this week, the Florida Department of Revenue (DOR) notified City Manager Art Noriega that Díaz de la Portilla’s absence from a Sept. 28 vote on Miami’s property tax rate for the current fiscal year rendered it invalid.
An emergency vote must soon take place, state officials said, or the city will have to forfeit more than $56 million in tax revenue.
The Miami Herald first reported Friday on the letter, which DOR personnel sent Monday to Noriega.
The money at stake comes from a Miami-Dade County surtax known as the “half-penny,” a 0.5% sales tax that voters approved in 2002 to fund transit improvements. Funds generated by the surtax pay for free Metromover service in the city, upgrades to mass transit solutions like the South Corridor and fleet vehicle replacements, among other things.
Florida law requires a unanimous vote of a municipality’s governing body in approving annual property tax rates in excess of 110%. Díaz de la Portilla’s ouster prior to the Sept. 28 vote approving Miami’s fiscal 2024 budget rendered the current plan invalid, state officials said.
The state has given Miami until Dec. 11 to fix the issue. Commissioners-elect Damián Pardo and Miguel Gabela, who defeated Díaz de la Portilla earlier this month, are to be sworn into office Saturday. That leaves the Commission with just nine days.
City Attorney Victoria Méndez, who faces a lawsuit over a house-flipping scheme she and her husband allegedly undertook that defrauded dozens of incapacitated residents, advised the City Commission on Sept. 28 that its budget vote would be valid. That advice conflicted with guidance DOR gave the city after Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Díaz de la Portilla Sept. 15.
A DOR official recommended that the city should either fill Díaz de la Portilla’s vacancy or lower the property tax rate so fewer votes were needed for it to pass. Following Méndez’s advice, the City Commission did neither.
Pardo, a certified financial planner, told the Herald he plans to call for an independent review of the budget before a vote. In the meantime, he said, Commissioners can enact a temporary fix to buy more time.
Police arrested Díaz de la Portilla Sept. 14 for bribery, money laundering and criminal conspiracy, among other charges. Despite his legal trouble, he ran to retake his District 1 seat this month, but ultimately lost to Gabela by 8 percentage points.
Pardo, meanwhile, unseated Commissioner Sabina Covo in his first run at public office.