Eagle County ambulance services relatively healthy | VailDaily.com

Eagle County ambulance services relatively healthy

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – Rural ambulance services are in trouble in many parts of Colorado, but not Eagle County. The difference is a dedicated flow of tax money.

A recent story in the Denver Post outlined the financial troubles being experienced by ambulance services in Morgan County, Summit County and elsewhere. Those services depend almost entirely on patient billing to stay in business.

The valley’s two ambulance districts are different, because both have a dedicated source of property tax income. The local districts are somewhat rare, too – there are only about 15 such districts in the state.

The Edwards-based Eagle County Ambulance District provides service to patients from East Vail to Wolcott, then up State Highway 131. The district has a budget of roughly $6 million for 2011, and about two-thirds of that budget comes from property taxes. The rest is brought in through patient billing, grants and other sources.

The Eagle-based Western Eagle County Ambulance District covers more square miles, but fewer patients. Its 2011 budget is about $3.4 million, with about $2.5 milllion of that coming from tax collections.

The Eagle-based district collected only about $400,000 from patients last year. But it sent bills totalling about $900,000. District manager Chris Montera said that’s the reason the property tax levy is so important.

“If we only collected $400,000 a year we could barely keep the lights on and the trucks running,” Montera said. That makes a steady source of income crucial to a business that relies on highly trained people and expensive equipment.

While the ambulance districts with their own property tax streams are in significantly better health than those relying just on patient billing, there are rougher days ahead for Eagle County’s ambulance districts.

Because the way property taxes are calculated by state law, the widespread drop in property values that started in late 2008 will finally show up in tax bills due in 2012. Eagle County Assessor Mark Chapin has estimated that property tax collections could fall by 30 percent or more that year.

In Edwards, Eagle County Ambulance District director Fred Morrison said the district’s board has been planning for the drop. The district’s elected board has actually dropped its property tax levy the last couple of years as property values have risen. The district can restore those drops for 2012.

The district has also been careful about spending, and has cut some of its seasonal staff. Because calls for service have dropped the last couple of years, Morrison said those staff cuts haven’t affected service.

In Eagle, planning for 2012 started a few years ago, with a freeze on employee pay. Pay cuts may be coming in order to avoid layoffs. The down-valley district is also re-structuring the debt it took on to build a new ambulance station in Gypsum.

While local ambulance districts are weathering the economic slump, Montera said that’s due to voters’ wisdom in setting up a steady income stream.

“This is becoming a national crisis in rural areas,” Montera said. “It’s hard for places to afford this service.”

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or smiller@vaildaily.com.

Support Local Journalism

Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User