Fishermen’s Community Hospital CEO Drew Grossman addresses the Marathon City Council prior to an extension of the Middle Keys Health Care Municipal Services Taxing Unit. ALEX RICKERT/Keys Weekly

The Marathon City Council faced hefty decisions at its Feb. 13 session, but still managed some time for fireworks as it renewed City Manager George Garrett’s contract to close the meeting.

Matlock, Garrett square off over contract renewal

Though the council voted 4-1 to extend Garrett’s contract for an additional three years, the decision didn’t come without hefty criticism from councilman Kenny Matlock, who took aim at a prior ordinance he felt was falsely presented to the council.

Ordinance 2023-15, originally reviewed by the council in August 2023 and tabled again in January, at that time contained language governing the redevelopment of hotel and motel rooms whereby single-room units may be altered to become two- to six-bedroom units, in exchange for a reduction in the total number of units on a particular site. The proposed ordinance language included a maximum square footage for redeveloped units, debated by the council, as well as additional provisions for affordable housing.

A version of the ordinance presented to the council in January stated that the five- and six-bedroom redevelopment provisions would only apply “within the Parks and Recreation (PR) Zoning District.” Within the city, the Florida Keys Country Club property, set for future development as the luxury Florida Keys Resort, is one of only two PR-zoned properties with transient building rights, with the other being Curry Hammock State Park’s tent and RV sites.

Matlock cited prior emails between Garrett and resort investor Peter Rosasco, along with other professionals involved in the design and engineering of the new resort, as indications that pieces of the ordinance language were crafted to aid one specific development.

“We’ve got someone in our city presenting standard policy changes that are not standard policy changes. They are specifically for specific developments,” Matlock said. “I cannot count the times we were told … this was not for the golf course. It is for the golf course. It’s right there in black and white.”

Speaking with the Weekly by phone the following day, Garrett pushed back against the idea that the ordinance was presented as a standard policy change, stating that although Rosasco had asked for a review of the regulations, he was within his right to do so as a Marathon resident.

Real estate magnate Brian Schmitt, developer Noah Singh and Thea Ramsay spoke in support of Garrett, with Schmitt stating that he “would prefer to deal with city staff in Marathon more than any other political jurisdiction in the Keys, and that’s largely because of George.”

“I think Marathon has done a better job of housing, a better job in development, and a better job in its planning and building departments than any other community,” Schmitt added.

Marathon resident and former planning commissioner Mike Leonard refrained from commenting on Garrett specifically, but spoke against a three-year contract extension, calling the extended term “a tool for recruiting, not when you have somebody here that’s already successful.” Leonard spoke in favor of a one-year contract as well as open-forum discussions of Garrett’s performance, saying that the city’s liability for the proposed extension could reach well north of $1 million in salary and benefits for Garrett.

Matlock voted to table Garrett’s contract extension, but did not receive a second, eventually standing as the lone “no” in the final vote.

Baptist taxing district to continue

Another year of the controversial Middle Keys Health Care Municipal Services Taxing Unit (MSTU) in support of Baptist Health and Fishermen’s Community Hospital found greater support and minimal discussion as it was renewed for another year in a 4-1 vote, with Matlock against. The taxing district was narrowly renewed 3-2 in 2023 after council criticism of Baptist’s community involvement.

According to financial statements provided by Baptist at the meeting, in fiscal year 2023, Fishermen’s showed an operating income of $11,286,000, boosted to $13,592,000 after a $2,306,000 county tax benefit.

Fishermen’s CFO Patti Boylan and CEO Drew Grossman touted Baptist’s increased presence at community events, pointing to the company’s $52.4 million in capital investments since fiscal year 2018 as well as an ongoing annual loss of roughly $1 million for Baptist’s primary care practice. Boylan said the hospital has raised about $14.5 million in charitable contributions in Marathon through the Baptist Health Foundation, but that the company’s net investment loss from Fishermen’s sits at $59.8 million.

“Last year, our chairman Jay Hershoff stated that a promise made is a promise kept,” Grossman said. “This promise and commitment will continue as your health care partner.”

Grossman reiterated the capabilities of the company’s new $11.5-milion medical arts building adjacent to the hospital, set to open in April and house the primary care practice, specialist care, rehab services and infusion therapies.

Boylan said she projected the MSTU would reach its maximum $15 million in tax benefits from the community by February 2025, prompting questions from councilman Luis Gonzalez.

“A yes vote tonight (for the taxing district) takes it to September of 2025,” he said. “So from February next year to September, how would we get refunds for that overage of taxes collected?”

“I don’t know all the logistics of how the tax is collected,” Boylan said, but confirmed that the hospital would only collect a maximum of $15 million, with the remainder to be coordinated between Marathon and Monroe County for residents’ refunds.

More boat ramps at the Quay

Following a 3-2 vote, with Mayor Robyn Still and Gonzalez as the “no” votes, the council directed city staff to proceed with an altered plan for the Quay property, incorporating an additional double-wide boat ramp and vehicle turnaround with several scaled-down elements of the previously-planned park-only design for the area.

Discussion of the property’s best use has continued for months since Vice Mayor Lynn Landry advocated for additional boat ramps at the site, fueled by a growing need for ramps that he said has far eclipsed Marathon’s need at the time of the park’s original design.

Council opinions largely remained unchanged through multiple discussions and workshops, culminating in Tuesday night’s vote. 

“I think we need to move forward with what the public wanted,” said Still. “We had a vote, and we need to listen. We obtained grant money (for the original plan), and I’m worried if we turn the grant money down, we won’t get it – Marathon will be known as the city that turned a grant down to move forward at an expense of $1.8 million to our taxpayers.” Gonzalez echoed the sentiments.

“An $844,000 grant sounds good, but that grant comes with stipulations which will handcuff not only this council, but future councils if we go to a park and down the road deem it necessary to do something else,” Landry said. “We’re projecting approximately $360,000 in revenue from that boat ramp this year. … We’ll have a steady stream of income forever at that ramp if we do this.” 

In other news:

  • Following a successful award of $99,900 to 27 nonprofits in April 2023, the council unanimously elected to continue its nonprofit grant awards program for 2024. Though Matlock and Smith said they were cautious about awarding taxpayer money as grant funds, the 2024 awards will total up to $150,000.
  • At Gonzalez’s request to address the safety of children and pedestrians in the neighborhood, the council voted 4-1 to pursue installation of speed bumps or humps on Harbor Drive and Dolphin Drive. Matlock was the lone “no” vote.
  • Florida Keys Contractors Association president Armand Messina reported that local contractors are still working through issues with timely email responses from city staff, but praised the now-open door to the city’s front lobby, a longtime point of debate raised to improve accessibility to staff.
  • At its second hearing, Ordinance 2024-03, modifying the city’s Existing Building Recertification process by expanding the pool of engineers qualified to perform inspections under the ordinance, was unanimously approved.
  • At its second hearing, the council unanimously approved an amended development agreement for Marlin Bay Yacht Club that will eventually see a portion of the marina opened for public use. The reconfigured site plan includes 92 dwelling units, some of which will be elevated to allow for parking underneath the structures, along with 99 wet slips. Attorney Bart Smith confirmed that the reworked development agreement prohibits vacation rentals of vessels in the marina.
  • Resolution 2024-23, authorizing the purchase of a new fire engine for the city at the cost of $1,072,908, was unanimously approved.
Alex Rickert
Alex Rickert made the perfectly natural career progression from dolphin trainer to newspaper editor in 2021 after freelancing for Keys Weekly while working full time at Dolphin Research Center. A resident of Marathon since 2015, he fell in love with the Florida Keys community by helping multiple organizations and friends rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Irma. An avid runner, actor, and spearfisherman, he spends as much of his time outside of work on or under the sea having civil disagreements with sharks.