Monroe County voters will not see a referendum on the Aug. 28 primary election ballot to create a municipal service taxing district for Fishermen’s Community Hospital.
County Commissioners voted Wednesday to move ahead with creating the taxing district, no opinion from voters necessary. There were two other options for commissioners to choose from. One was to put a referendum for the taxing district on the August primary election ballot; the other was a bond referendum.
“If we were to go to referendum, it would be approved overwhelmingly, but that takes time. The more time we take off the front of this, the more time we take off the back of this,” said Mayor David Rice.
Baptist bought the hospital at MM 49 oceanside almost a year ago; it was destroyed by Hurricane Irma.
The taxing district will be in place for a maximum of 10 years and with a .5 mill or less tax rate, reviewed each year by the County Commission.
On a non-homesteaded property assessed at $300,000, it would mean a tax increase of about $150 a year.
The proposed taxing district will extend from MM 47 to MM 63, encompassing Key Colony Beach and Duck Key. It’ll roll out on next year’s tax bills.
With the exception of a group of people on Duck Key, 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.
The money raised by the tax must be used for indigent charity care, according to Jay Hershoff, chairman of the Mariners and Fishermen’s Hospital Foundations.
He said Fishermen’s has been losing about $33,000 a day, or $1 million a month, since Baptist bought the hospital. That’s on top of the $24 million in debt it incurred in buying the hospital.
“This tax is not going to cover our losses, but it’s going to help us with our losses and shows Baptist Health System, in the community, has got some skin in the game.” – Jay Hershoff
“This tax is not going to cover our losses, but it’s going to help us with our losses and shows Baptist Health System, in the community, has got some skin in the game,” he said. “We’re going to stay here and build a beautiful hospital.”
The groundwork is being laid for the facility’s rebuilding, which will cost nearly $40 million, $15 million of which hospital officials are seeking in privately raised donations.
The tax money cannot be used for infrastructure or rebuilding the hospital.
“We don’t want any money for bricks and mortar,” Hershoff said. “We’re going to build it with philanthropy and we’re well on our way to do that.”
The rented field hospital on the grounds of Fishermen’s 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.
Similar taxing districts exist in the Keys, including the Lower and Middle Keys Fire and Ambulance taxing district and a Key Largo fire and medical taxing district. They are assessed at 2.1 per mill and 1.0 per mill, respectively, during the 2017 tax year. (The Lower and Middle Keys Fire and Ambulance taxing district does not include properties in the City of Marathon.)