Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Business Climate Change

Do you know what it costs to open a business in North Bay Village?  Neither do I.   Nor apparently does the Village. 

There are many variables - what type of business?  what type of premises? the price of the real estate? etc.  But the Village offers one variable too many - the cost of getting your business license from North Bay Village.   

A new business it trying very hard to come to North Bay Village.  Captain Joe's Boat Club, a boat rental club that was in Miami Beach for years.   It was time to move and Captain Joe selected North Bay Village, specifically the commercial marina at 7904 West Drive on Harbor Island. 

And then the problems began.  

The business applied for a license and approval of the zoning plans.  Now mind you, there was no need for a single zoning change.  The spot has been operating as a commercial marina for decades, with all taxes and fees current and paid.  The owner has more than sufficient parking and access, and the business itself has a clear operating plan.   Should be a no brainer, right?  

But it's North Bay Village.  The first hurdle was the village administration.  

In spite of the years spent operating as a commercial marina, the papers "disappeared" and the landlord had to prove that he owns what he owns and that is what it is.  That cost a few grand.  

Then the legal review of the application kicked in.  By custom, this is charged back to the applicant on a time and materials basis.  After an exhaustive review, legal found that the business is exactly what the business said it was and that the proposed site is zoned for exactly this kind of business.   

At the point, the cost of the initial business license is over $12,500 and the owner has been notified that it could be more.  Compare and contrast to the $300 annual license fee Captain Joe was paying in Miami Beach to operate a popular, tax generating and revenue enhancing business with minimal impact on the community.  

I am not anti-government.  Municipal government has a strong responsibility to ensure that a business of any sort is operating under the law and that it is properly and intelligently approved.   

In this case, and I have heard tell of others, in particular from a former restaurant owner in North Bay Village who was hounded by zoning, there were shifting goals, no clear path and most importantly, no way to plan for the financial demands from the village.  

We can't have this.   Businesses need predictable process and costs.  If the Village can't find the paperwork, it's the Village that should look.  If legal review is required for a bog standard business license, it should be a fixed price.  Inspections need to be made against agreed and clear criteria.  

North Bay Village is hurting, bad.  Our businesses survive in spite of the municipal government.  There are many creative, profitable options available including one step permitting for routine businesses at a single cost, tax abatements to reduce opening costs (and that's not a give away.  A tax abatement can postpone first year taxes to be paid later in order to help a business to get established).  The Village needs to market itself.   

A key issue is the Business Advisory Board has been working on exactly these issues but their recommendations are not reaching the commission, seemingly blocked each time they are proposed.  

Fixing this process is another example of the zero cost, high return that proper administration can bring.  It needs to change now.  

Kevin Vericker
February 26, 2013

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