Aspen Times Editorial: Keep the lifeline connected to AVH: vote yes on 6A |

Aspen Times Editorial: Keep the lifeline connected to AVH: vote yes on 6A

Aspen Times Editorial Board

Voters within Aspen Valley Hospital’s special taxing district are being asked this fall to extend a 1.5 mill levy that will ensure the continual operation of this vital community asset.

By voting yes, voters will be continuing a property tax that was established in 1995 to help support the hospital’s operations. Residents have renewed it every five years since.

The mill levy generates roughly $4.6 million each year and represents about 4% of AVH’s overall budget. It’s an important 4% because it’s essentially the hospital’s operating margin.

As Dave Ressler, AVH’s executive director, has explained, the hospital’s operations — patient revenue, minus expenses — resulted in a loss of $4.6 million already this year. That’s before property taxes and philanthropy.

The mill levy helps maintain AVH’s operating margins, but also allows the hospital to invest in equipment and capital needs.

Without the mill levy revenue, the first hit would be AVH’s ability to invest in technologies and equipment, which the hospital depends on to stay modern and state of the art.

We don’t want to see AVH having to re-evaluate and possibly eliminating what’s called “negative margin services” — specialty services that the community relies on having access to through AVH’s physicians and those who are on contract.

We support AVH’s proposition to extend the mill levy 10 years instead of the traditional five, largely because of uncertainties in the health care industry in the coming years.

AVH faces significant reimbursement pressure because of escalating costs and premiums becoming affordable.

The second significant uncertainty is consumers with high deductibles can’t afford the increasing health care costs and are unable to pay their bills.

We hope to see reforms on the federal and state levels that address those uncertainties.

But in the meantime, AVH is doing what it can locally by better managing the health of the local population and total costs of health care through the Valley Health Alliance, which is addressing chronic conditions, social determinates and lifestyle to get us all healthier.

Because voters have thrown their support behind the hospital five times by renewing the mill levy, extending it a decade when most of AVH’s obligation bond debt will be retired is good timing.

Voters passed the bonds in 2010 to help fund AVH’s facilities expansion to the tune of $50 million. Another $60 million is being raised philanthropically.

The general obligation bonds will be paid by 2030, and nearly all of AVH’s other long-term debt, estimated at around $16 million, also will be repaid by then.

When the mill levy expires in 2030 after voters approve ballot question 6A this election, all of AVH’s debt will retired. At that point, the AVH board and administration have the opportunity to re-evaluate the needs of the hospital and how much mill levy support will be necessary in the future.

With the debt completely retired, it will be a clean slate for AVH. That gives them the flexibility to determine how to fund ongoing capital and facilities needs, and meet the challenges of whatever the future brings.

The tax is set to expire in December 2020. By extending it for another 10 years, it sends a clear message that the Aspen and Pitkin County community supports its rural hospital.

It’s important to note that the tax revenue doesn’t go to AVH’s ongoing expansion, which is estimated to cost $60 million; $13 million of which still needs to be raised through private donations.

The 1.5 mill levy means a property owner pays roughly $12 annually on a property with an assessed value of $100,000, and so on.

It’s a small price to pay to know that we have a hospital that operates in the black, and is proactive in improving the health of locals and is providing the necessary services for this unique population.

The loss of the mill levy revenue would result in the significant curtailment of services and capital investments in order to preserve adequate cash reserves.

Vote yes on ballot question 6A. We believe your money is in good hands.

The Aspen Times editorial board consists of publisher Samantha Johnston, editor David Krause and reporters Rick Carroll, Scott Condon and Carolyn Sackariason.