Hospital to ask voters to extend tax | AspenTimes.com

Hospital to ask voters to extend tax

John Colson

Area taxpayers will be asked in November to reauthorize a property tax that annually brings in almost $3 million to help Aspen Valley Hospital’s efforts to right its financial ship.The 1.5 mill levy, which was first instituted in 1995 with a five-year term, was renewed in 2000 and expires next year.Board Chairman John Sarpa at a meeting Monday night said the board had talked about asking for an extension of the tax last year but decided against it because of the hospital’s ongoing financial difficulties. The time did not seem 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 been put in place, and the hospital is no longer losing money and is actually 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” and ask for the mill levy to be reauthorized.”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 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 at one point 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 on the November general ballot for residents of the Aspen Valley Hospital district.John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com