Miami-Dade Commissioner Barbara Jordan this week withdrew her ordinance calling for the county's economic development agency to continue giving 8 percent of business tax surcharge revenues to the Metro Miami Action Plan Trust (MMAP), a county agency that targets black businesses. The move means MMAP, which focuses on economic development, education and criminal justice initiatives within Miami-Dade's black community, will receive an increase in funds from the county equivalent to the 8 percent surcharge, or about $300,000 a year.
But it also brings an end to the dedicated funding source for MMAP allocated in 1993, when county commissioners criticized the Beacon Council for doing little in black neighborhoods. At that time, commissioners ordered the agency to give 8 percent of the then-occupational license tax – now called the Local Business Tax – to MMAP, and to contract with the agency.
MMAP Interim Director John Dixon Jr. said the Trust is concerned about the stability of the funds.
"The Trust's concern would be that when it was a dedicated source of funding, the jeopardy of losing it or it decreasing was hopefully not there," Dixon said. “The Trust has some concern that down the road, based on what's happening in the state and around the country, that those funds could be cut."
The withdrawal by Jordan, a strong supporter of MMAP, surprised some of the 30 or so people who attended the county commission’s "sunshine meeting" on Monday in a packed conference room at the Stephen P. Clark Center in downtown Miami. Jordan requested the meeting earlier this month to try and stake out a compromise over her and Gimenez's competing ordinances.
Jordan on Tuesday said, "We reached a compromise so that the dollars that would have been provided through the surcharge will be provided by the county, to make sure that MMAP is able to continue to do the kind of economic development that they were doing.’’
The Beacon Council emerged from the meeting victorious after years of fighting the requirement to give MMAP a share of the tax, which is paid annually by all county businesses. MMAP had argued that it needed the dedicated funding to avoid being at the mercy of county budget cuts. Beacon successfully countered that MMAP has failed to account for the funds and that its mission was redundant.
Beacon Council President Frank Nero applauded the move Tuesday, which also clears the way for the Beacon Council to receive about $300,000 of MMAP money that has been held in escrow since the dispute arose late last year. Nero indicated in an email to supporters that MMAP could also be required to refund $1.2 million to the Beacon Council.
"It seems our 15 year ordeal regarding MMAP funding is over," Nero wrote in the Monday email. "We need to thank Commissioners Gimenez and [Rebeca] Sosa for their strong support on this issue, without them we would have not prevailed." Sosa's district includes parts of Miami, Hialeah, Coral Gables and Miami Springs. Gimenez represents parts of Coral Gables, Key Biscayne, Miami, Pinecrest and South Miami.
Jordan, whose district includes the cities of Miami Gardens and Opa-locka, said that economic development would include "physical improvements and grants to businesses, as well as employment activities which were not provided for in the statute."
According to state law, MMAP was only allowed to use surcharge funds for marketing and advertising. Jordan acknowledged that MMAP went beyond that mission.
The deal must still be approved by the full commission this fall, along with the overall county budget. But Jordan said she has secured the support of fellow commissioner Carlos Gimenez, whose competing ordinance stripping MMAP of the surcharge funding will now go forward. The deal also calls on the Beacon Council to use the restored funds in the black community, something MMAP and its supporters have argued the Council has failed to do.
In response to whether it will use the restored 8 percent surcharge funds to target black communities, Nero essentially said maybe. In an emailed statement, he said, "We are a county-wide marketing organization, similar to the [Greater Miami Visitors and Convention Bureau], not a community development agency because our primary mission is not technical assistance to small business."
He added, "These Local Business Tax Receipt surcharge funds will be used primarily on marketing all the business assets of Miami-Dade County and we will attempt to utilize these funds to possibly increase our efforts for enterprise zones, urban areas and especially the Opa-locka Airport."
"It's clear that they haven't done enough," said Gary Johnson, who heads a non-profit faith-based organization, and who attended Monday's meeting. "They're getting tax dollars from small, black-owned businesses, but the question is, what are they doing regarding economic development in the black community. That's something we need to sit down with the Beacon Council to discuss."
In a July 1 draft memo to the county, Beacon asserted that state statutes require the surcharge to be distributed "to a single agency" which will "oversee and implement a comprehensive economic development strategy through advertising, promotional activities and other sales and marketing techniques."
According to the memo, MMAP acted as a "parallel agency duplicating the Beacon council's legally designated role and mission." The Council also charges that MMAP has failed to provide a detailed accounting of how they spent past funds.
MMAP already receives general funding from the county for its programs, including credit repair workshops, home ownership and juvenile justice assistance. Its website says the agency's mission is "addressing the socio-economic disparity of Miami-Dade County's black community."
Photo: MMAP Interim Director John Dixon Jr