MONROE COUNTY, FL – The Monroe County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) met Wednesday in Key Largo for its regularly scheduled meeting. Some approvals at the meeting include:

Three New Trauma Star Helicopters Approved

The Trauma Star air ambulance program is a partnership between the Monroe County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) and the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office. Trauma Star provides flights to mainland hospitals for critical patients in need of specialized care. The program continues to provide no balance billing for Monroe County residents needing the service.

On average, Trauma Star provides almost 1,400 flights annually, with 3-4 flights a day on three helicopters in the fleet. According to Sheriff Rick Ramsay, Trauma Star is one of the top five busiest air ambulance programs in the United States. However, the current helicopters in the fleet are more than 20 years old and are no longer in production, making it difficult to find parts when needed.

On Wednesday, the BOCC agreed to acquire three new helicopters. Ramsay said the replacements would meet the specific mission profile to protect resident and visitor lives. The helicopter’s range also allows for emergency rescues in Dry Tortugas with flights to Miami critical care centers without stopping to fuel. In addition, the capacity allows two adult patients to be flown in one helicopter at a time, which cannot be done with the current aircraft.

The funding will come from the infrastructure penny sales tax. Voters extended the sales tax in November on a ballot referendum. Monroe County residents and visitors pay the infrastructure sales tax when buying items, not through property taxes. During COVID-19, when the County was closed to visitors, the infrastructure sales tax collected was down 67 percent, showing that visitors help significantly with the funding.

Ramsay said the new helicopters will take about two years to build, outfit, and train pilots.

Big Pine Key Senior Center Approval

The BOCC approved a 5-year lease for a 2,422-square-foot space at the Big Pine Key Shopping Center, next to the UPS Store in the Winn-Dixie plaza, for a senior community center and meal site. The space is expected to open in June 2023. The previous senior center on Key Deer Boulevard was severely damaged during Hurricane Irma and sustained spalling and other issues that made the space unsafe.

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