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Years after hotel got improper break on impact fees, St. Petersburg officials don't know how it happened

ST. PETERSBURG — It was a costly miscalculation seven years ago and remains a City Hall mystery.

A city employee charged the developers of the Hilton at Carillon Park $93,751 in traffic impact fees to pay for road improvements required for the nine-story hotel. Problem was, the Hilton actually owed $313,702, and the undercharge wasn't discovered until 2007 by Pinellas County auditors.

Rather than admit the error, the employee insisted he made no mistake.

The undercharge — which saved developers $219,951 — occurred because a supervisor ordered him to make it, the employee said.

The permit shows that someone scratched out the correct amount and replaced it with the bogus total.

Who ordered it and why? The employee, Don Tyre, says he doesn't remember.

Whatever the reason, taxpayers won't recover the full amount. On Monday, the City Council approved a legal settlement with the developer that gets back only $60,000.

The remaining $159,951 will never be paid.

The yet-to-be explained incident seemed to stun council members.

"Something is terribly wrong there," said Karl Nurse. "I don't know why you wouldn't have a criminal investigation on this."

• • •

Permit No. 03-12000156 was for a nine-story Hilton hotel at the Carillon business park. It was processed by a development services department under then-Mayor Rick Baker.

Hired by the city in 1997, Tyre was a graduate of the University of Florida college of architecture who once owned a construction company. He was the only plans examiner with a college degree, contractor license and private sector experience and was considered the most qualified employee on staff to review elaborate projects like this one.

He approved the permit on June 24, 2004. Among the requirements Tyre listed was that developers owed $93,751 in transportation impact fees.

The hotel opened by July 2006, but county auditors discovered a year later that Tyre had drastically miscalculated what the hotel owed in impact fees, which help pay for road improvements. City auditors subsequently found that Tyre had made an original — and correct — impact fee calculation of $1,439 per room, which is the hotel rate.

But he changed that calculation and charged $413 per room, the rate the city charges for efficiency apartments.

"Mr. Tyre stated that he talked to someone in the city who requested the revision in the calculation, however he could not remember who that individual was," according to an Aug. 7, 2007, memo from the city's internal auditor, Brad Scott.

He gave auditors a list of five supervisors who might have told him, but he said he didn't know for sure because he had no documentation of the request. He told auditors that requests were either done by e-mail or over the phone. The permit, in which the correct amount is scratched out, gives no indication why the change was made or who made it.

Tyre declined to comment on Tuesday, referring all questions to a current supervisor, David Goodwin, the city's director of planning and economic development.

Goodwin said he can't comment about Tyre or the case until the settlement is finalized.

Tyre had told auditors that Goodwin was one of the five supervisors who might have authorized the change. When asked about if he did, Goodwin said he didn't remember.

"I don't know what he's talking about," Goodwin said.

Auditors looked at other projects reviewed by Tyre and found other miscalculations, including $39,693 in impact fees not collected for a Best Western Hotel in 2004 and $24,312 in impact fees not collected for a Holiday Inn in 2002. The city has since collected the proper amounts from Best Western and Holiday Inn. Not so with the Hilton.

The city sued to collect in 2008, but the defendant, Arkansas developer Hobbs and Curry Family Limited Partnership refused to pay the full amount. It offered $60,000, which city attorneys recommended to City Council members on Monday.

Steve Kornell and Wengay Newton voted against it.

"I'm concerned that we have an employee with selective amnesia," Newton said.

Tyre remains with the city, where his evaluations have been glowing. There was nothing in his personnel file mentioning his issues with the permits.

"Don's work is very accurate and thorough with nearly no errors," a 2009 review concluded.

His last review came in April. Under work quality, on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being the highest, Tyre received a score of 4.5.

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or mvansickler@sptimes.com.

Don Tyre, a St. Petersburg plans review coordinator, approved a permit on June 26, 2004, that allowed the construction of the Hilton St. Petersburg Carillon Park. The permit charged $93,751 in traffic impact fees. The hotel actually owed $313,702. That correct amount was scratched out and the lesser amount added. Why? Tyre told auditors "someone in the city" requested the revision. He couldn't remember who, though, and the mystery stands to this day, according to city attorneys.

Years after hotel got improper break on impact fees, St. Petersburg officials don't know how it happened 11/23/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 23, 2011 12:03am]
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