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Aspen Ambulance District heads into 2023 in the black instead of red

Voter-approved mill levy increase staves off planned reductions in staff and medical equipment purchases

An Aspen Ambulance District ambulance is parked on Friday, Dec. 9, 2022, at the district building on Castle Creek Rd. in Aspen. (Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times)
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

For the Aspen Ambulance District, 2023 could’ve been a dismal year with cutbacks to medical-equipment purchases and a reduction in staff, but, thanks to voters passing a mill-levy increase last month, those drastic moves are not necessary.

“It gives us some breathing room,” said Gabe Muething, director of the district. “It gives us the freedom we need to focus on quality care for the community.”

The district was bracing to operate in the red next year and emptying its reserve funds, with projected fiscal spending to be over $1.5 million.



But, with a majority of voters agreeing to a property-tax increase from 0.501 mills to 1.1 mills, the district will be infused with roughly $2.4 million annually.

Service calls have increased an average of 5% each year, and, since 2014, it’s roughly 27% in growth, according to Muething.




In addition to growing operational costs and non-revenue generating services, the district is seeing less reimbursements within the health-care industry, making it more difficult to operate without community support.

“We do have the luxury of a community that can afford that high quality of care we offer,” Muething said. “I really need to thank the community to trust us and know that we are doing absolutely everything we can to provide a high level of care.”

The Aspen Ambulance District is its own taxing authority and is governed by the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners.

Commissioner Patti Clapper, who helped lead the campaign for the property-tax increase this fall, said it was necessary for the district to have its own revenue stream to be able to guarantee quality care for the community and have enough first responders who are adequately trained and properly outfitted with the most advanced medical equipment available.

“And, it would have been inappropriate for the county to fund a special district out of the general fund, which is why we went to the voters,” she said.

Muething said, instead of putting on hold the replacement of aging ambulances, the district will now purchase new vehicles and get on the rotation of replacing every eight years. Prior to the passage of the mill levy, he was going to push the replacement cycle to 10 years.

An Aspen Ambulance District ambulance is parked on Friday, Dec. 9, 2022, at the district building on Castle Creek Rd. in Aspen. (Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times)
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

“The year of 2023 is a year of playing catchup,” he said.

The district’s annual budget hovers around $5 million, which includes operational costs like the maintenance of a new building that opened in 2019 and payroll for 36 employees.

Muething said the public can expect, with the district’s new revenue source, a high level of care 24/7.

“We truly are an ER on wheels,” he said, adding that the district’s first responders are top-notch professionals who can handle just about any medical emergency on scene.

The district doesn’t just respond to 911 calls. It handles inner-facility transfers, so, if a patient needs more care than what Aspen Valley Hospital can offer, they will transport to another medical center.

Aspen Ambulance District is also present at all the upper valley’s special events, conducts educational and prevention programs, and provides emergency management and swift-water rescue.

Non-revenue generating services — like when an ambulance is called but the patient is referred to a non-emergency facility — accounts for 35% of the calls received and is a big chunk of the district’s operational costs, Muething said.

“To me, that what’s this mill levy is for,” he said.

The last time the Aspen Ambulance District went to the voters for a property tax was in 2014 for a new building across from Aspen Valley Hospital.

Prior to that $8-million, 12,000-square-foot facility opening, the district operated out of a 25-year-old, 2,800-square-foot facility that was falling apart.

Nearly all the money collected from the 2014-approved mill levy went to the new facility, and that was by design, according to Muething, who said it was intentional to only ask for that from voters first and then go back later to ask to cover the district’s operational costs.

“As our volume continues to grow, we know we have an eye toward the future,” he said. “If we all put in a little, it helps the entire community, and, no matter what we did, we stretched our budget and are as efficient as we can be.”

csackariason@aspentimes.com

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