Amid rising operational costs and diminishing returns on service reimbursements, the Aspen Ambulance District is seeking approval for an increase to its current property tax allotment from voters in Tuesday’s election.
Ballot Number 6A asks if district taxes should be increased to $2.44 million per year “for the sole purpose of providing a stable source of funding for the Aspen Ambulance District.” The 24/7 ambulance service, covering more than 160 square miles around Aspen, is currently collecting 0.501 mills, and the districts are looking to increase that to 1.1 mills, which is $110. in taxes for every $100,000 of assessed value to owners.
The district is on track to run out of reserve funds this fiscal year and run into the red in 2023.
“We wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t absolutely necessary,” Aspen Ambulance District Manager Gabe Muething said in a phone interview with the Aspen Daily News. “It really will go all the way to operations and if we don’t get it we will literally go into the red in a matter of months.”
Muething said operating at a deficit immediately affects the district’s ability to buy new ambulances, replace aging equipment and supplies, and train its staff. He called it a security issue.
According to a 2021-2032 fund balance projection by the Aspen Valley Hospital District, the ambulance district is expected to see its ending fund balance drop from $167,468, to less than $300,000, by the end of the year. of 2022.
“If we don’t get it, we’ll really have to think about what steps we would need to take to reduce some of our services or reduce some of our capacity to see how we can extend the life of some of the equipment that we have and it’s a really tough decision and definitely one we don’t want to have to make,” Muething said.
In the past five years alone, district spending has increased 18.2%, according to a voter’s guide to PitkinVotes.com and mailed to local voters. Rising operating costs and purchases of new equipment, fuel and other items were aggravated not only by an increasing volume of services provided, but also by a decrease in the reimbursement rate of insurance companies, because a growing percentage of the population benefits from Medicare or Medicaid.
Muething says companies reimburse paramedic services at a flat rate and the problem would not be solved by simply raising prices.
“These, as government payers, usually pay us much less than what we charge and there’s really no going back,” Muething said. “We can increase our prices tenfold and they still won’t pay it, so we’re out of luck.”
The district also sees a 27% non-revenue services rate, according to a presentation to the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners in July. While the percentage remained stable, the number of cases increased with the total volume of services provided.
The district only charges if it transports a patient. If a patient refuses transportation or receives on-site treatment by Aspen Ambulance District personnel before being transported by something else, such as an emergency helicopter, the district does not generate revenue.
Voters last approved a factory tax increase to benefit the ambulance district in 2014, raising funds to build a new station, bringing it to the current rate of 0.501 mils. The district first received 0.82 mills in 1982, dropping to 0.22 in 1992 with the passage of the State Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR.
Muething said the district is providing an “unprecedented level of care”, with paramedics trained to perform critical care duties when transport to a higher level facility than the Valley can offer is not immediately available. . They also venture into the backcountry or local rivers to do field work.
It was a sentiment echoed by Pitkin County Commissioner Patti Clapper when presenting voting questions to the BOCC on July 26.
“The other thing that the community needs to understand more is that we have increased our level of care to such an extent because the community has asked us in many cases, all cases probably, this increased level of care because that some of our demographics in our population needs more,” Clapper said.
She has been a strong supporter of ballot number 6A, trying to gain community support and helping set up a campaign account. She did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment on this story.
Opponents of 6A cite doubling tax revenue as a sticking point, suggesting increased billing as a solution. In a letter to the editor submitted to Aspen Daily News, Aspen resident Michael Maple said the 25% increase in service calls since 2014 did not justify the jump in revenue.
“The District and its operator, Aspen Valley Hospital, should adjust their operations and/or patient-to-client billings to balance their budget rather than seek to increase tax revenue,” Maple wrote.
Muething’s answer is that increasing the billing would not solve the financial problems. He also said some of the opposition to the ballot issue is based on the fact that it would double the district’s tax revenue.
He said that although it is factual, his counter is that it is not a significant change from going from half a thousand to just over one.
The election is on Tuesday and all ballots must be received by the county clerk by 7 p.m. to be counted.