KEY LARGO — On the agenda for action at the Sept. 21 meeting for the Monroe County Commission is an item that has been discussed for years: abolishing the Upper Keys Health Care Taxing District, more commonly known as the trauma district. 

The county attorney is asking for approval to advertise a public hearing discussing this action. Also on the agenda is confirmation of a new executive assistant for Commissioner Sylvia Murphy. 

“It’s time,” Murphy told the Free Press last week about dissolving the taxing district. “There’s really no point. We would have to go back to referendum for another tax to add to the coffers, and there’s no good reason to do so. It really is not necessary anymore.” The sentiment has been expressed for years. 

“There isn’t any need anymore,” Don Bock told the Free Press in 2013. Bock is an advisory board member for the Upper Keys Health Care Taxing District and is also the chief of the Key Largo Volunteer Fire Rescue Department and Key Largo Ambulance Corps.

 Complicating matters, however, has been what to do with the district’s lingering pot of old tax revenue.

 The county created the taxing district in 1988 to pay the hospital costs for uninsured victims of trauma incidents, usually car accidents. The referendum allowed for three taxing districts to be created for the Upper, Middle and Lower Keys, though the districts were never set up in the Middle and Lower Keys.

 A half-cent tax was collected in the Upper Keys from 1988 to 1992 and a quarter-cent tax from 1992 to 1995. At one point, the district had up to $7 million in its treasury.

Murphy, who was once on the trauma board as well, said in the 1980s and ‘90s hospital admittance was a problem for emergency responders and their trauma victims, particularly when insurance coverage couldn’t be immediately confirmed. So the trauma district’s role was to vouch for any uninsured patients and pay for their services at Tavernier’s Mariners Hospital and Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital and also the ambulances that carried them there.

 But hospitals are no longer allowed to deny care to the uninsured, and with

 the advent of the Affordable Care Act and cellphones, it’s easier for trauma victims to prove they are insured in the first place.

 Pamela Johnson, administrative assistant for the taxing district, confirmed to the Free Press that the district’s advisory board members voted to disband at its most recent meeting.

 Murphy said that the taxing district still has about $800,000 left in its funds and that it will be divvied up between the fire and ambulance departments of Tavernier, Key Largo, Layton and Ocean Reef. There will be a stipulation with this money: It has to be spent on trauma-related capital-improvement projects such as ambulances or equipment. 

“They’re not going to buy office supplies with it,” Murphy said. 

Murphy explained that Islamorada already received a payment of $440,000 when it incorporated, and the money was used for two ambulances and other equipment.

 New assistant Johnson has also been Murphy’s executive assistant for the past four years, but she is leaving due to requirements of Florida’s Deferred Retirement Option Program. 

“It was mutual and cordial, and we both knew this four years ago,” Murphy said. “I wasn’t planning on running again, either. Both Pam and I were going to sail off into the blue together.”

 At the Sept. 21 meeting, the county commissioners must also approve the employment agreement for Johnson’s replacement, Susan Ptomey, at a salary of $61,000 a year. 

Murphy describes her executive assistant as being essential to her role as county commissioner. County ready to abolish old trauma district BY CHARLOTTE TWINE Free Press Staff “I could do the job without it but not nearly as well. I’m gone from the office most of the time,” she said. “Also, there’s an awful lot of paperwork.”

 So Ptomey will staff the office and help prepare paperwork and Murphy’s budget. “She [Ptomey] approached me,” Murphy said. “She had heard Pam was coming to the end of DROP, and I happen to know she’s a crackerjack in the office. She’s been at Ocean Reef for 17 years and before that in the [Monroe County] sheriff’s department. So the woman knows her job, and I was delighted.”