While Miami-Dade County residents paid higher property taxes last year, Hialeah Mayor and Miami-Dade County mayoral candidate Julio Robaina did not pay property taxes on a shopping center he owns in his city. In fact, it appears Robaina has avoided paying taxes on the building since 2006, when he and a business partner finished it.
Robaina did not respond to a request for comment through his assistant Arnaldo Alonso about the shopping center located at the corner of West 23rd Street and Fourth Court.
According to the Miami-Dade County Property Appraiser's Office online search engine, the parcels are vacant. The information shows a company called Sun Holdings, which lists Robaina as president, purchased both in 2003 for $90,000. A year later, Robaina secured a one million dollar construction loan from Continental National Bank of Miami to build the shopping center. He also took out a $350,000 mortgage.
The county assessed the "land value" at $78,600 in 2009 and $72,050 last year on the first parcel. The second one is valued at $78,000 during the same time period. However, the "building value" for both years is listed at zero dollars because supposedly these are empty lots.
So that means Robaina, a former president of the Northwest Dade Association of Realtors, has only been paying taxes ($1,556 in 2010) on the value of the land, but not on the building that is actually there.
A drive by the property, the county's satellite imaging system, and Google Maps proves a shopping center with a lushly landscaped parking lot exists. Even Robaina can't dispute it. Sun Holding's office is located at 499 W 23rd Street, adjacent to the shopping center.
Among the former and current tenants included a grocery store (which Robaina evicted this past January) and a medical supply store.
Normally, when a builder completes a project and recieves a certificate of occupancy, the issuing municipality's building department must notify the property appraiser to reassess the value to include the structure, whether it is a house or a shopping plaza. In Robaina's case, that didn't happen.
"We don't have a record that a certificate of occupancy was issued," says Deputy Property Appraiser Lazaro Solis. Although he told Banana Republican it was the property appraiser's office's fault Robaina's building value was not recalculated.
Solis explains that Hialeah notified the county a permit was issued for the two parcels sometime in 2005. He says his office mixed up the folio numbers and the lots in question were classified under another nearby property. That lot, which is also owned by Sun Holdings, remains empty today. "We didn't realize construction occurred on those two lots," Solis says. "We should have known. We take responsibility for that."
Solis claims appraisers finally realized the shopping center was there on June 25 of last year during a "regular sweep" his office does of county properties. "For what it is worth we have started the process of putting the building on the tax roll and reassessing it for prior years," Solis says.
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That means Robaina is going to be getting a very large tax bill. However, it is hard to believe that the Hialeah Republican didn't know he was getting a huge break. Like every property owner, he gets a tax bill from the county every year that breaks down the land and the building value. How he missed the big fat ZERO for the past five years on a building he took out $1.35 million in loans on is mind boggling.
As someone who has been a real estate broker for most of his adult life, is himself a builder, runs the second largest city in Miami-Dade, and aspires to be county mayor, Robaina has no excuse.