Aspen Ambulance District hopes more help is soon on the way

Aspen Valley Hospital CEO David Ressler warns board that current funds for the ambulance district may not support operations

Aspen Valley Hospital.
Aspen Times File

Aspen Valley Hospital’s board of directors showed their support this week for a property-tax increase officials say would generate another $2.4 million in revenue in its first year for the local ambulance authority.

The board’s unanimous endorsement comes after Pitkin County commissioners on Aug. 24 agreed to a November ballot question, asking voters to decide on whether to more than double the mill-levy rate that supports the Aspen Ambulance District.

Aspen Valley Hospital contracts with the Aspen Ambulance District for its services, while Pitkin County commissioners govern the district. The ambulance district is its own taxing authority.

“The current funds for the ambulance district have a burn rate such that they will not be able to support current operations,” hospital CEO David Ressler told the board.

The Aspen Fire Department also has lent its support to the district. There is no known organized opposition to the tax question at this point. Ballots for Election Day on Nov. 8 will be mailed out Oct. 17.

The ambulance district’s three sources of revenue come from special events coverage, patients served, and the mill levy. The district provides ambulance transportation, emergency medical services, as well as swift water and rope rescue, among other services.

“Just as a reminder: The ambulance district, we’re paying to manage it, but it survives on its own patient collections, plus the mill levy … and a small amount from special events,” Ressler said.

The ambulance district, which is headed by Gabe Muething, generated $1.7 million in patient revenue last year and $1.5 million from the mill levy.

The district billed $85,450 for special events coverage in 2021, Muething told the Board of Commissioners at the Aug. 24 meeting. The Winter X Games and FIS Snowboard and Freeski World Championships at Buttermilk comprised 57% of the district’s special-event service last year, he said.

But, after paying $51,737 in compensation for the 778 staff hours put in during special events, plus $20,600 on 206 vehicle hours, the district made a profit of $13,113 on its special events coverage, Muething said.

“Not a whole lot,” he said.

According to projections by the ambulance district, increasing the mill-levy rate would create revenue of $3.9 million in 2023 and 2024, while the next two years it would dip to $3.5 million.

A voter-approved mill levy has supported the district since its formation in 1982. In 2014, voters approved a mill levy of up to 0.501 to help fund the construction of a new ambulance district headquarters. A mill is a tax rate applied to a property. A rate of 1 mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of a property’s assessed valuation.

In November, the ambulance district’s electorate will be asked to decide on a proposed mill levy of 1.10, which is an increase of 0.599 mills.

For a property owner, the proposed increase to 1.1 mills would work out to $110 for every $100,000 of a property’s assessed value.

“The scope and role of the ambulance district has dramatically changed in the last few years and is being tasked ever more with duties not typically associated with rural EMS systems. These services are not only limited to response to medical emergencies, but also prevention, education, population health, public health, and emergency management,” said a Board of Commissioners resolution for the ballot question.

The ambulance district covers nearly 167 of Pitkin County’s 971 square miles. The district serves all of Aspen and unincorporated areas such Ashcroft, the Maroon Bells, Red Mountain, up Independence Pass, as well as Woody Creek.

The district has a year-round population of 10,074 residents, an average daytime visitor population of 4,110, and daytime population of 9,954 workers, according to the district’s presentation to the the county commissioners in August. That amounts to an overall population of 24,138 people with access to the service.

Snowmass Village, Old Snowmass, Basalt, and other populated and visited areas in Pitkin County receive ambulance service from Roaring Fork Fire Rescue Authority.