Pitkin County commissioners show initial support for ambulance tax hike

The Aspen Ambulance District seeks a property-tax increase to keep up its level of service

The Aspen Ambulance District seeks a property-tax increase to keep up its level of service, and the Pitkin County commissioners showed initial willingness this week to put the question on the Nov. 8 ballot.

All five commissioners voted for a resolution to do so on first reading on Wednesday. They’ll vote again Aug. 24; the deadline for the board to certify the ballot content is Sept. 9.

The district seeks an increase in annual property tax that would come to $76 more for a residence valued at $1 million, and $319 more at the same assessed value for a business, according to Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock.

He said the ballot measure would aim to provide adequate funding to maintain current service levels through varying economic cycles and to support equipment and vehicle replacements on a cash basis without incurring debt. 

According to Gabe Muething, chief of emergency medical services for the ambulance district, the increase in operating costs is driven by an increased volume of calls due to an aging population with more chronic-health conditions and more activity. This is coupled with a decreased collection rate because Medicare only pays between 25 percent and 30 percent of the bill, and more people are qualifying for Medicare. In addition, the cost of equipment and personnel is increasing, as it is across the board, he told the commissioners.

“We really do have an amazingly high level service here, and I don’t want to stop that in any way,” Muething said. “I want to make sure that we have the absolute best for our community. …We really are buying the best equipment that we need to save lives. … Help is going to be there for you when you need it most.”

Without a mill levy increase or subsidy from the county’s general fund (which the district currently receives), the ambulance-district fund balance will go negative in 2023, according to Peacock.

“One of the reasons that I am supporting this ballot question is that it is just not appropriate for the county to have to continue to use county general funds to fund the special district,” Board Chair Patti Clapper said.

One of the questions raised by Board Member Greg Poschman and Vice Chair Francie Jacober regarded the charge imposed by the ambulance district for special events. Jacober suggested charging event organizers more since they make a lot of money from the events.

“We’re a tourist community, but, more importantly, we’re an event community,” Muething said. “Our goal is obviously to provide the same level of care for somebody coming in for an event as our own citizens.”

Currently, the district charges a fee depending on what service is provided for the event. The amount is based on a charge structure that evaluates operating costs for the district. However, raising the fees would not bring in enough additional money to compensate for the revenue shortfall, according to Muething.

Poschman emphasized Jacober’s point, reiterating that many events could afford to pay more. He suggested studying ambulance rates for special events in nearby counties to supplement the district revenue.

“It might not make a significant difference, but it might make a difference,” Greg said. “Every little bit helps.”

According to Pitkin County Finance Director and Treasurer Ann Driggers, the mill levy remains relatively low when compared with other municipalities due to Aspen’s exceptionally-high assessed property values.


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