Daily Archives: June 21, 2007

Condo Assocation Politics: Recall Survival Tips

A recall is a vote to remove existing board members. There does not have to be a specific reason to initiate a recall. It can be done at anytime even right before elections. It’s often used as a weapon between competing factions to gain control of a condo association board. If you are on a board, and there is a recall, then don’t worry. We have some tips for you.

Propaganda

  • The opposition will bombard unit owners with negative propaganda in order to get them to vote you out. At first hint of a recall, a board must take action and send out a letter to all owners addressing the issues that the recall is derived from.
  • Do not rely on the management company for propaganda efforts. They are not a P.R. firm.
  • It is best to arrange a committee of concerned owners to help the effort. Opening up a blog in response to the accusations is a free and easy way to combat the recall. Be sure to mail out letters to all owners letting them know about the blog.

Inaction is Worse than Bad Action

  • Boards often assume that by speaking out against a recall, they are legitimizing it. In fact, it is the opposite, by remaining silent, the accusations thrown at you can be misconstrued as being true, regardless of whether or not they are falsifications.
  • A board can often fall victim to indecision and reluctance when responding to accusations. The fact is, a recall means war. In war, he who hesitates is lost.

Get Your Attorney Involved.

  • There are many legal requirements for a successful recall. Although it depends on the declaration of condominium, a recall will usually require a majority vote of owners to be effective. This means that deeds that are under corporate names, and units owned by multiple non-family individuals, require voting certificates. The attorney will disregard the invalid votes.

Show Face

  • Call a meeting of the board of directors and face the opposition in front of the community. After all, if you are right and the opposition is wrong, then there should be nothing to hide. Do it as soon as you catch wind of recall ballots going around. Just be sure you have extra security at the meeting.

Recalls are a Serious Business
Just because you’re on the board doesn’t mean your position is secure. Once you start feeling all high and mighty, your defenses drop, and the rug can be pulled out from under you. If you follow these basic Recall Survival Tips, you should be okay. That is unless you are fraudulent scum worthy of being booted out.

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DBR Breaks the SEIU Report

hile most Florida homeowners are itching for a break on their property taxes, Fisher Island’s wealthy residents have been getting breaks for years.

Residents of the exclusive island at the foot of South Beach have gotten accustomed to challenging the property appraiser’s assessments before the Miami-Dade County Value Adjustment Board —and saving big on property taxes.

The assessment cuts approved by the county board have translated to $15.2 million in lost tax revenue from 2002 to 2005, according to a report by Service Employees International Union Local 11, which is trying to organize island workers.

The tax-trimming strategy extended into the 2006 tax year as island homeowners filed more than 540 petitions with the board to challenge their property valuations.

“Every American has a right to appeal his property taxes, and many Americans choose to do so. The people of Fisher Island paid $21.5 million in property taxes last year and received virtually no services from the county,” Fisher Island Community Association president Mark James said. “We have no apologies for our right to appeal our property taxes.”

The SEIU report also estimated property taxes that would have been paid by Fisher Island homeowners without valuation appeals under a formula calculating property appreciation and the island’s millage rate.

Island residents have successfully appealed assessments and lowered their cumulative assessed property values more than $965 million below what SEIU estimates the actual values would have been without appeals.

The actual property tax bill was subtracted from the amount calculated by SEIU by applying a 3 percent annual increase to homesteaded properties and the average annual increase in single-family home values in the Miami area to nonhomesteaded properties.

Based on the report’s methodology, the Fisher Island residents who got the most out of their appeals were retired investment banker George Collins and wife Maureen for their three-bedroom, 6,820-square-foot condo in Oceanside at Fisher Island. SEIU estimated $183,384 in lost tax revenue for their unit from 2002 to 2005.

Other Oceanside owners, Jeffrey and Margaret Arnold, saved $158,289 in the same period. Jeffrey Arnold is a former co-chief executive officer of WebMD.

There were no listed phone numbers for the Collinses and the Arnolds.

The median assessed property value for nonhomestead properties rose 14 percent on the island while the value of nonhomestead Miami-area homes rose 90 percent in the same time frame, according to the report.

Fisher Island residents are still pursuing valuation appeals for their 2006 taxes.

All 38 units of Oceanside at Fisher Island Condo No. 5 went before the VAB on April 2. Reductions were approved for 24 condos, resulting in a combined cut in assessed value of $7.24 million and an average assessment cut of $190,526.

The reasons for granting reductions were comparable sales and units having their views permanently restricted.

The Oceanside condo with the largest reduction was a three-bedroom unit owned by Villa Del Mare Realty. The county board cut the assessment 9.7 percent from $6,377,750 to $5,760,500. Villa Del Mare’s company manager is Leon Cohen, president of Miami Beach-based Knowledgeware and founder of Cortex Telecom. Cohen received a 3.4 percent reduction in value for the 2005 tax year. A message for comment was not returned before deadline.

The 2006 value of the Oceanside unit owned by Craig J. Duchossois, chief executive of Elmhurst, Ill.-based Duchossois Industries, was reduced $477,810 to $5,495,200, according to a review of county records. A voicemail system at the company did not accept messages Tuesday.

Gary A. Appel of Garth Realty, an attorney representing all of the Oceanside units, had no comment on the Fisher Island tax appeals. He has made a cottage industry out of valuation appeals for island owners.

Several Fisher Island residents who appealed their tax assessments could not be reached for comment before deadline. A call to the island’s club was not returned before deadline.

James L. Riley, a special magistrate who oversaw the Oceanside petitions, could not be reached for comment by deadline.

“Your average homeowner doesn’t know about the system” of tax appeals, said Hiram Ruiz, deputy director of the SEIU local. “If your property taxes went up … you aren’t going to be able to afford an attorney.”

Owners can challenge their assessed value either through an informal conference with the county property appraiser or petition the VAB for a reduction.

The board is composed of County Commissioners Joe Martinez, Audrey Edmonson and Javier Souto and school board members Agustin Barrera and Robert Ingram, who appoint a special magistrate to oversee the petitions. The county has 19 real estate appraisers and seven attorneys serving as magistrates.

Property owners have 25 days to file a $15 appeal petition after receiving their annual notice of proposed property taxes. In cases where joint petitions are filed by condo associations, the fee is $5 per property folio.

A total of 49,577 appeals were filed with the VAB for the 2006 tax year, according to board manager Robert Alfaro. About 32,000 had been heard by the end of May.

A 2005 performance audit by the state auditor general found more petitions were filed in Miami-Dade than any other Florida county.

About 40 percent of the petitions end up with reductions, Alfaro said. Based on that percentage, reduced values for 2006 would be approved for about 19,831 Miami-Dade properties.

About 1 percent of the petitions are filed by Fisher Island owners even though the make up only less than 0.06 of a percent of the county’s population. About 76 percent of Fisher Island properties filed appeals at least once from 2002 to 2005, according to the SEIU report.

Of 750 Fisher Island residential properties found on the county appraiser’s Web site, more than 500 appeals for the 2006 tax year are still pending before the VAB. Most are set for hearings June 27.

Appel is handling more than 90 percent of the Fisher Island petitions, Alfaro said.

Only a handful of island residents are scheduled to make personal appearances before the board. These include Miami developer Homero Meruelo and Mark D. Coe, president of Coe Capital Management in Lincolnshire, Ill. A call to Meruelo’s office reached a full mailbox Tuesday. Coe did not respond to a message before deadline.

There is a maximum reduction permitted depending on assessed values, and the property appraiser may appeal decisions exceeding that amount. For instance, if a property is worth more than $1 million and the VAB cuts the valuation more than 5 percent, the property appraiser is allowed to challenge the board’s decision in Miami-Dade Circuit Court.

SEIU found 85 instances of valuation cuts of more than 5 percent on Fisher Island homes worth more than $1 million from 2002 to 2005. Two dozen Oceanside units received cuts, and all but two assessments were cut by more than 5 percent.

“If the VAB allows a reduction, the PA [property appraiser] determines within the context of its limited resources which reductions to challenge. Challenges are often lengthy and invariably expensive. As such the [property appraiser’s office] has to consider the cost effectiveness and the chances of mounting a successful challenge,” Patrick Smikle, spokesman for the appraiser’s office, wrote in an e-mail.

In 2005, the board approved 11,850 valuation reductions. Of those, 6,578 met the statutory requirements for challenge, but the appraiser’s office challenged only 105 of them, Smikle said.

SEIU analyzed assessments while organizing Fisher Island workers and has threatened to file an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board over the firing of a restaurant worker who supported the union organizing effort.

“On the island we are working for people, rich people, but they don’t give us enough to survive,” Fisher Island worker Cristiana Monestine said at an SEIU news conference last week.

She earns $8.50 an hour and is one of the few Fisher Island workers who owns her home. Her property taxes increased about $300 last year.

“For the system to be used by our wealthiest residents to get out of paying their fair share is unfair to the rest of us,” Ruiz said.

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Miami: Spa Central (Part I)

Image: The Delano’s roof top spa; Aqua.

There are many dimensions to Miami’s magnificence. One of them, is the City’s extensive portfolio of uber-luxurious spas. So what does Miami (aka: Spa Central) have to offer those seeking a meditative and rejuvenating escape from the daily grind?

Let’s take a look at this first installment of Spa Central:

Image: Spa at the Ritz Carlton South Beach

“Escape to a sanctuary that offers an elite menu of La Maison de Beauté Carita treatments alongside an extensive menu of European wellness and beauty rituals, including Prada Beauty skin care therapies. The Ritz-Carlton Spa at South Beach was named the best day spa in Miami by Allure magazine and features 14-treatment rooms, a “Power Shower” with 23 body sprays, luxurious relaxation lounges, a full-service salon and two couple’s suites.”

  • The Delano has the renown Agua Spa located on the hotel’s roof:

“The Agua Spa is a serenely beautiful and peaceful space that offers state-of-the-art spa treatments aimed at rejuvenating the body, mind and spirit. Housed in a pristine white setting, with miles of sheer billowing curtains, an enormous private terrace and 360-degree views, Agua is the ultimate sanctuary.”

  • The Shore Club pitches in with their own rooftop spa:

“We invite you to visit our beautiful rooftop retreat – a 8,000 sq. foot full-featured facility within the serene Zen-like atmosphere of teak and warm-toned materials includes wet and dry treatment rooms, outdoor terraces and massage decks, and exclusive products. Indulge in magnificent ocean views as you rejuvenate Yin Yang energies and replenish natural body rhythms.”

Image: rendering of the Fontainebleau spa

  • The Fontainebleau (currently undergoing a $1 billion expansion) is perhaps the most exciting addition to the Spa Central portfolio:

“Unique experiences will include the Rain Tunnel, a simulated icy creek bed with refreshing pre-treatment scrub/mud specialty showers. The Grand Whirlpool will include a central water feature and underwater sound. The Liquidrom is a thermal bath of body-temperature saline water. Iced Creek, containing pebbles, ice cubes and salts, will flow through all wet treatment areas with seating areas for foot soaking.

At this five-star, two-story, 40.000 sq ft spa guests will find 33 treatment rooms, comprised of 21 massage rooms, six facial rooms, two wet/dry treatment rooms, two couple’s massage suites and two deluxe Fontainebleau spa suites with Vichy shower. “

Image: rendering of the Canyon Ranch Spa

  • Canyon Ranch certainly offers the most notable spa in Miami. The world renown wellness institution’s most ambitious project to date is its Miami Beach development:

“Enjoy legendary Canyon Ranch spa treatments in an atmosphere of tranquil beauty. Refresh with the ultimate spa experience in the advanced therapeutic AquavanaSM, the first complete European thermal suite of its kind in the U.S. The treatments, or Kurs, are drawn from the mineral-rich thermal waters of Europe and have a profound effect on body and soul. If you prefer, choose an outdoor massage for its natural delights.”

Image: The spa at the Setai

“A haven of serenity and natural beauty, The Spa at The Setai opens the door to an intimate private world dedicated to the restoration of the body, mind and soul. The philosophy behind this very special spa is derived from an ancient Sanskrit legend of the gods, who embarked on a quest for a natural elixir of immortality and eternal youth. Today, the unique and exotic treatments of The Spa at The Setai reflect this legend, bringing the healing spirit and traditions of the east to South Beach.”

  • The planned W South Beach will add another top class spa option in case the prior ones are unsatisfactory. Here are the offerings:

Away ® at Home: In-home spa services and Resident program

Sweat ®: State-of-the-art fitness club featuring the latest strength and aerobics equipment, personal training, free weights, yoga, pilates and sauna

Bliss Spa™: take a personal retreat anytime at the 5,000 square foot world famous spa

Image: Acqualina Spa

  • The Acqualina is home to their excessively luxurious own spa retreat, ESPA:

“Ground-breaking in design and cutting-edge in spa innovation, ESPA at Acqualina – the first of its kind in the United States – offers ESPA’s celebrated treatments including the latest facials, advanced massages and Ayurvedic experiences. The luxurious two-story spa overlooks the glistening Atlantic Ocean and provide guests and outside clients alike with a stimulating sanctuary and thoughtful amenities.”

Image: Spa suite at the Mandarin Oriental

 

“The 15,000 square-foot (1,394 square meters) Spa is an award-winning sanctuary. It features 17 private treatment rooms, including six stunning VIP suites, with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the bay. We’ve used exotic textures in its construction, like bamboo, rice paper, glass and natural linens, to achieve an ambiance of total harmony. It’s the perfect place in which to indulge in our holistic treatments that blend elements and ancient wisdoms from around the world.”

“The apex of relaxation on the island, SpaTerre is the resort’s nexus for healing and soothing, and uses many of the herbs, minerals and essential elements indigenous to the area. Indonesian, Thai and Balinese influences are also present in this organic oasis, which offers a full line of body treatments, salon services, facial care, spa rituals, massage therapies and one of the few Watsu massage pools on the Eastern Seaboard.”

To be continued.

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On Miami Blogging

Until now, I had never written about blogging here, but today I just had to.

I read Stuck on the Palmetto–Rick and Alex. It’s one of the great Miami blogs. Not to mention, award winning, and widely read.

I also read Critical Miami–Alesh. Also, a prominent and award-winning blog.

Yesterday, CM and SotP had a bit of a dispute.

In response to the racial tension caused by the whole ordeal, on SotP, I wrote a comment agreeing with Alex but jokingly took a shot at Rick. Alright, fine, I called Rick’s remarks “filthy” and “racist”. After leaving the comment, I had to go to a meeting. I get back to my computer hours later to see that Rick and Alex thought I was serious. Ooops.

I was joking guys. Why would I so strongly agree with Alex, who is defending Rick, and then take a serious stab at Rick?

Both SotP and CM have plugged Boom or Bust, and it has been a huge compliment, stat booster, and probably gained this blog many readers. I owe them for their referrals and got serious respect for what they do, daily.

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