Voters reauthorize mill levy for Aspen Valley Hospital
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN – Voters approved reauthorization of a property tax that helps fund Aspen Valley Hospital District operations Tuesday by a 1,306-to-816 margin.
The mail-in election generated a light turnout, with just 26 percent of the district’s voters casting a ballot. Voters could return the ballots by mail or bring them to the hospital until 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Voters also cast ballots for three candidates for the hospital’s board of directors. Three incumbents sought re-election to three open seats. Chuck Frias garnered 1,661 votes, followed by Lee Schumacher with 1,612 votes and John Sarpa with 1,595 votes.
Reauthorization of the mill levy for a fourth time was the election issue of greater focus.
“We were all pleased it wasn’t close,” said Frias, the board’s treasurer, acknowledging the tough economic times.
Still, Frias said he was fairly confident voters would support the mill levy, first adopted in 1995, for another five years.
“I think the perception in the community is the hospital provides a valuable service,” he said.
“We had a high degree of confidence, but we know these are difficult financial times for the community,” agreed hospital CEO David Ressler.
There was some confusion among voters, he conceded, about the purpose of the tax, which goes solely toward hospital operations. The hospital is also pursuing an expansion plan – a project that cannot be funded with the tax proceeds, though the tax allows AVH to save other revenues that it can put toward the expansion.
They are related, Ressler said, but added: “This is not about raising money to pay debt on the expansion.”
The mill levy has allowed the hospital to keep its rates below what is standard in the industry, according to Terry Collins, chief financial officer at AVH.
Voters OK’d a mill levy of up to 1.5 mills, though it can be adjusted downward. The hospital board was quick to do just that last year, when escalating property values would have generated a revenue windfall for the hospital district.
The board scaled back the levy to 0.9 mills in order to keep the revenues it generates at an even $3.5 million annually.
The hospital’s 2010 operating budget, excluding about $2 million annually that goes to paying principal and interest on debt, is about $50 million.
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