Monroe County Commissioners got the ball rolling Wednesday to create a special taxing district in the Middle Keys, the proceeds of which will go to rebuilding Fishermen’s Community Hospital in Marathon.

There has been support from local municipalities since April, when representatives from Baptist Health South Florida made the rounds in Marathon and Key Colony Beach asking for support for the taxing district. Baptist bought the hospital last year; it was destroyed by Hurricane Irma.

“I came in here today to vote in favor of establishing an MSTU (municipal service taxing unit) to avoid any further delay and loss to Baptist Hospital,” Commissioner George Neugent said Wednesday.

According to details discussed at a Marathon Council meeting, the goal is to raise about $10 million over the next 10 years, with a .5 mill or lower tax rate. On a non-homesteaded property assessed at $300,000, that would mean a tax increase of about $150 a year. The proposed taxing district would likely extend from MM 47 to MM 63, encompassing Key Colony Beach and Duck Key, but the details need fine tuning.

Neugent made a motion to direct staff to prepare two different resolutions necessary to create the taxing district. One would be a year-by-year agreement necessary to renew, and the other option is a 10-year maximum agreement.

For there to be a multi-year taxing district, there would have to be a referendum, the soonest being the Aug. 28 primary election ballot.

“The concern is the November ballot is going to be so chock full of questions and there will be ballot fatigue, so it’s better for this to not get lost in the November ballot,” said county attorney Bob Shillinger, adding staff could have the resolutions ready by the June meeting. “We can still proceed down both paths and you can make a final decision in June. You’re setting it up for a future taxing year, so even if you did it year-to-year it wouldn’t go into place until the tax bills for next year are collected.”

There is a rented field hospital on the grounds of Fishermen’s at the moment, which will be removed July 13 and replaced with a custom, hard-sided inpatient temporary hospital to be delivered and erected at a cost of $3 million.

The groundwork is being laid for the facility’s rebuilding, which will cost nearly $40 million. At the same time the hospital continues to lose about $1 million a month on top of the $24 million worth of debt it incurred since buying the hospital.

According to Jay Hershoff, chairman of the Mariners and Fishermen’s Hospital Foundations, before it even assumed ownership, Baptist provided a $3 million line of credit to the cash-strapped hospital. Then, when it assumed ownership, the first move was to pay off a $5.8 million mortgage held by CenterState Bank. Then it spent $4.1 million to pay off vendors, including the previous management firm, Quorum, that was owed back pay.

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