AVH approves spending plan
Aspen Valley Hospital will collect more than $2 million in property taxes – the maximum allowed – next year to supplement its budget of nearly $43 million.
The 2000 budget, approved unanimously last night by the hospital board of directors, anticipates just over $30 million in spending for operations, about $13 million for capital expenses, and a year-end surplus of $356,000.
The board also authorized the hospital to issue $8.5 million in bonds to purchase the Midvalley Medical Center in Basalt, pay off roughly $1 million in existing debt and reimburse the hospital for cash reserves used to purchase equipment.
The budget that gained the nod from the board last night was not exactly the same as the one discussed last week during a joint meeting between the board and the hospital’s finance committee. Hospital administrators upped the price increase for services from 4 percent to 4.4 percent, eliminated a request for one new employee in the billing department and added a pediatrician.
But the heart of the budget remained the same. Hospital patrons can expect to see an expanded occupational health program, and a larger obstetrics department to deal with the valley’s baby boom. The new pediatrician will join the hospital staff in June. Nearly $400,000 is set aside to recruit four new doctors to the area – a family practitioner, an ENT physician, a general surgeon and an orthopaedic spine surgeon. And the hospital also expects to spend $290,000 on rent subsidies and other housing needs.
In fact, there was little debate about details of the budget, though there were a few worries expressed by two finance committee members about the amount of taxes levied.
Aspen Valley Hospital has relied on property taxes since the mid-1990s, when, after a contentious campaign, voters agreed to assist the then-financially ailing institution. Voters authorized a tax levy of up to a 1.5 mils. Last year, at the full 1.5 mils, the tax netted $1.6 million for the hospital.
Hospital CEO Randy Middlebrook came to the board last night asking for the maximum amount possible, which, given a roughly 25 percent increase in the assessed value of property in the hospital district, equates to more than $2.2 million. Middlebrook gave a half-hour presentation explaining the history of the mil levy and its role in the hospital’s current development.
Finance committee chairman Bob Levin said his committee was far from unanimous about the tax question. Three members agreed with Middlebrook’s request for the full amount, the two thought it shouldn’t be quite so high, and two – Levin and Pitkin County Finance Director Tom Oken – thought the increase in revenues from the property-tax collections should be held to about 4 percent, or about $1.7 million.
“The position of some people in the last election was that the hospital would only take what it needs,” Levin said. And while it can be difficult to define needs, he continued, it might be to the hospital’s advantage to go for a smaller increase this year because the mil levy must be reauthorized by voters next year in either May or November.
His comments drew a sharp response from the audience, with one retired surgeon calling Levin’s airing of the “minority opinion” inappropriate. And the comments had no effect on the board, which voted unanimously in favor of collecting the maximum amount.
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Looking for alternative to I-70 closures, truckers are ignoring numerous warning signs to attempt the narrow, treacherous road that goes over Independence Pass east of Aspen.