Maritime industry lauds passage of Amendment 6
By Bill Frogameni
Marine industry leaders are cheering the passage of Amendment 6, a state measure that mandates working waterfront property be taxed at its actual usage – not its “highest and best” potential.
Amendment 6, which received an overwhelming 70.5 percent voter approval, will protect the state’s considerable maritime sector against property assessments that skyrocketed during the real estate boom.
“It’s great to see all the grassroots efforts have paid off and common sense has prevailed,” said Frank Herhold, executive director of the Marine Industry Association of South Florida (MIASF), which represents businesses that service the region’s recreational boaters. “Florida, as a state, has demonstrated that public access to the waterfront is a big priority.”
Recreational aspects of the maritime industry (marinas, boatyards, etc.) have an $18.4 billion impact statewide, Herhold said, with the tri-county area generating $13.6 billion of that.
Fran Bohnsack, executive director of the Miami River Marine Group, also praised the amendment’s passage.
“Many of these businesses have had their taxes grow two or three times what they were just a few years ago,” she said.
The river’s unique businesses – which include smaller shipping terminals in what is considered Florida’s fourth-largest port – stand to benefit under the measure. In recent years, river businesses have fought to maintain protections as real estate proliferated northwest from downtown Miami’s boom.
Bohnsack said she was concerned that the wording of the amendment may be somewhat ambiguous when it comes to protecting shipping facilities along with marinas and boat repair facilities. But, she said, she’s confident the amendment will offer broad protection to maritime interests.
The vote comes as welcome relief for Miami River businesses that have been hit hard by declining shipments to Caribbean nations and high fuel prices.
Richard Dubin, whose Haiti Shipping Lines terminal is on the lower end of the river, near downtown Miami, was among those impacted by the higher taxes, a decline in shipping to the Caribbean and higher fuel costs.
Dubin said economic conditions have driven his business down about 35 percent compared to a year ago, and the typically brisk Christmas shipping season looks soft this year.
Adding to the strain, Dubin’s annual property taxes are now somewhere between $120,000 and $130,000, up from $40,000 two years ago, he said. READ MORE!
Atlanta Fed chief: Consolidation can cure troubled banks
By Brian Bandell
The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) is helping the nation’s largest banks, but smaller struggling institutions could be better candidates for consolidation, according to the head financial regulator in the Southeast.
Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta President and CEO Dennis P. Lockhart swept into the troubled South Florida banking market on Nov. 7 to speak at a Business Development Board of Palm Beach County meeting. He stressed that the Fed would be helping “viable” banks. When asked about banks in precarious financial positions, he offered consolidation with sound banks as a solution.
PNC Financial Services Group, using much of its TARP money, struck a pending acquisition deal for National City Bank. The Wall Street Journal has reported that Citigroup is seeking a regional bank to acquire after getting TARP funds.
“I expect we will see more consolidation in the banking industry,” Lockhart said.
South Florida banks such as BankUnited are seeking more capital to cover problematic portfolios, but none have received TARP funds so far.
Even with all is problem loans, Coral Gables-based BankUnited is a prime target for acquisition by a stronger bank with TARP money, said Lewis Freeman, founding principal of forensic accounting and consulting firm Lewis B. Freeman & Partners in Miami. That’s because BankUnited has a strong 62-branch network here.
Despite South Florida’s real estate woes, national banks still want to be here because of its mix of retiree and foreign dollars, he said.
Freeman also noted that an accounting change slipped into the bailout package lets profitable banks reduce their taxes by writing off losses from banks they acquire. While Freeman said this isn’t a good deal for taxpayers, it does encourage further acquisitions of struggling banks. READ MORE!