AVH wants to renew its property tax
October 9, 2005
Aspen Valley Hospital wants to keep collecting property taxes from residents of its district, and is asking voters to renew a levy that annually brings in almost $3 million to hospital coffers.The 1.5 mill levy, which was first approved in 1995 with a five-year term, was renewed in 2000 and expires next year.For the owner of a home valued at $1 million, passage of this measure would mean a tax bill of $9.95 per month, or $119.40 per year. It would not add to an owner’s tax bill, but would merely continue an existing levy.Board Chairman John Sarpa has said the board discussed asking for an extension of the tax in 2004, but decided against it because of the hospital’s financial difficulties. The time wasn’t right, he said, to ask voters for money when the hospital had been losing millions of dollars due to mismanagement.But, he said, a new administration has brought the hospital back from the brink of financial ruin to the point where it is building its capital reserves back to levels considered prudent by the financial community.”Our plan so far is working well,” Sarpa said, adding, “I think it’s obvious that we should go back to the voters.””We are not even contemplating using tax money to fund financial mismanagement; those days are over,” Sarpa said, in a reference to former administrator Randy Middlebrook and his chief finance officer, Verna Bartlett, who used tax revenues to make up for losses incurred through mismanagement of the billing system.Current financial officer Terry Collins told the board earlier this year that the hospital had lost $8.5 million over three years and said it would have been in the neighborhood of $17 million without the tax revenues.”Had it not been for the mill levy, we probably would not have a hospital here,” he said.David Ressler, the hospital’s chief executive officer, noted that the tax amounts to roughly 4.4 percent of the hospital’s overall revenues, and “can literally be the difference between being above water and below water” in lean fiscal months. He said the hospital enjoys relatively healthy revenues from January through August, but the rest of the time operates on slim budgetary margins because of the seasonal swings of the local economy.Sarpa said it would be “a mistake to think we could do without it,” an assessment that other board members agreed with.The mill levy question will be Referendum 5A on the Nov. 1 general ballot for residents of the Aspen Valley Hospital District, which encompasses all of Pitkin County except for the village of Redstone and a small section of land at the base of Mt. Sopris near Carbondale.