Teller County Service Provider Wins Multiple Awards
As the 2023 election is right around the corner, several key local fiscal issues have snagged a spot on the ballot.
One of the more notable, and one that has escaped the media limelight somewhat, is a bid by a local ambulance and emergency service group to offer more services, with the help of a small sales tax hike.
Over the last few years, local first responder agencies that provide services like fire protection, police and ambulance have struggled to attract and retain staff to be able to grow with the increase in population and tourism within the county.
This year, the Ute Pass Regional Health Service District (UPRHSD) put a measure on the ballot asking for a sales tax increase of one percent bringing the total up to 1.5 percent throughout the district. If passed, the tax increase would start at the beginning of 2024 and it would raise the amount of tax dollars received by UPRHSD by around $2.2 million.
The extra funds would then go to improving the services offered by UPRHSD. According to the ballot question, the money would be used “to fund, sustain and improve ambulance, community paramedic, response services, including but not limited to improving ambulance and crisis services, reducing response times, funding the district resident insurance only billing program, additional paramedics and ambulances, purchasing medical equipment and supplies, and funding future facility and other capital improvement projects.”
According to the Executive Director of UPRHSD Tim Dienst, an increase in sales tax revenue gives the district more flexibility than trying to raise property taxes.
“Non-district residents continue to consume ambulances at an alarming rate,” Dienst explained. “Right now, they consume about 36 percent of ambulance services, but only pay for 30 percent of the costs and charges. That leaves the residents holding the bag on the balance.”
An increase in sales tax would help pass some of the costs onto visitors when they stop at local stores to shop.
He pointed out that if the sales tax increase were to pass, taxes won’t be increased on where people work or live. Taxes also will not go up on groceries or prescription medications, which is important for people who are on fixed incomes.
If the sales tax increase gets approved, the district will not raise taxes along with rising property valuations in 2024. In addition, the district plans on temporarily lowering the mill levy in 2024 to give back the taxes gained from higher property valuations.
Dienst said that more revenue for the department generated by the sales tax increase will also allow the district to possibly lower mill levy rates in the future if property valuations continue to climb.
If passed, the sales tax increase will also allow the district to fully fund the resident’s no-balance billing program meaning that residents won’t be billed the balance an ambulance ride costs after insurance pays their portion.
Why is a Tax Increase Needed?
Dienst said that in the ambulance industry the people who use the services the most are the ones whose insurance pays the least. He said that an average ambulance bill costs around $2,600 and Medicare or Medicaid will only pay around $450 for the ride.
The losses incurred by the ambulance district from uninsured users and those on Medicare and Medicaid can be substantial. This year, the district has lost more than $2 million and it has lost over $15 million since 2019 from caring for those types of patients.
He said that the district will use the extra funds to retain paramedics and help them better compete in the highly competitive health services field. The tax increase is also needed to help offset the rising costs of fuel, vehicles and maintenance.
Dienst said that if the sales tax increase is approved, he also plans to add another ambulance and station to the district. “We are going to have to build a substation in Divide,” Dienst said. “When you think that we have two ambulances in Woodland Park and one in Florissant and Lake George, there is a whole segment of the population that still doesn’t have really good response times.”
Ambulance District Celebrates Multiple Awards
Last week, UPRHSD held a celebration at a local restaurant with food and cake to embrace the agency winning several awards this year. Last April, the agency received the award of EMS Agency of the Year and EMT of the Year from the Plains to Peak RETAC.
The agency also won the Special District of the year award from the Colorado Special District Association of Colorado. More recently, UPRHSD was notified that they won the EMS Agency of the year award from the Emergency Medical Services Association of Colorado and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environmental-EMS Division.
Emergency Medical Technician Zach Alvey was also awarded the EMT of the year award for 2023. Since 2009, the district has had 11 employees that have won various awards given out by different organizations.