By a 5-0 vote Wednesday, the Monroe County Commission created a new property tax for the Middle Keys to help pay for impoverished patients’ care at one of three hospitals in the Florida Keys.
The tax would cover property owners from the Seven Mile Bridge through Conch Key, or from mile marker 40 to 63.
Fishermen’s Community Hospital in Marathon was severely damaged by Hurricane Irma and for the past nine months has operated as a field hospital that resembles an army medical unit, treating more than 5,000 people and even delivering one premature baby.
Baptist Health South Florida bought Fishermen’s in July 2017, two months before Irma roared ashore as a Category 4 storm and says it has lost $11 million since then. The company has proposed a $40 million hospital to replace what was lost but wanted locals to pitch in as a show of good faith.
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The money won’t go to building the new hospital but instead go toward paying for hospital care for the poorest patients.
The new tax won’t start until 2019. It will work out to about $50 per $100,000 in property. The tax would be about $150 on a $300,000 home and is expected to raise $1.5 million a year for 10 years.
But the county commission would have to approve it yearly.
“It could not be levied at all if the commission feels it’s not needed that year,” said Cynthia Hall, an assistant county attorney.
Hall said Wednesday’s vote is only “setting up the bucket into what tax dollars would be collected,” and it has to go through negotiations between the county and Baptist Health South Florida.
Marathon’s City Council will also have to approve an ordinance.
Several people showed up at Wednesday’s county commission meeting in Marathon to oppose the new tax saying it should go out to referendum so the voters can decide.
“I don’t feel it’s fair to tax so many people that are hurting,” said Ronna Martino, of Duck Key. “I can afford it. I also know people working two jobs to pay their rent. I just ask everybody to slow down and not approve this at this time.”
Councilman Mark Senmartin of Marathon said he supports Baptist Health 100 percent but wants more details as to where the money will go.
“What are we getting for our money?” Senmartin asked the county commission.
County Commissioner Sylvia Murphy said if the tax-district question went to a referendum it would pass.
“Way too many people out there are speaking in favor of it,” Murphy said.
Hospital officials said that on Friday a new 8,000-square-foot modular hospital will open to patients at 3301 Overseas Highway.