Jill Beathard

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April 9, 2013
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Council takes no action on sales tax

SNOWMASS VILLAGE - The Town Council left Snowmass Village's 10.4 percent sales tax alone during a meeting April 8, although some officials expressed a desire to do something if the state or county takes action to raise the rate in the future.

The council was discussing the impact of the town's sales tax, one of the highest in the nation, on consumer spending. The council found out at the meeting that it could take action without going to voters to decrease the tax, but the officials didn't want to pursue it at this time.

Finance Director Marianne Rakowski made a presentation that included a chart comparing the town with similar mountain resort communities in Colorado. Of the municipalities listed, Snowmass Village had the highest sales tax rate. When totaling sales, lodging and restaurant taxes, Snowmass Village's was the third-highest.

The council heard comments from the public following the presentation.

"Thank you for looking at this more seriously than you have in the past," said longtime resident Reed Lewis. "I think we did kind of miss what it's like as a resident in this town."

If the Town Council trims down the tax rate, it likely will be in the 2.5 percent marketing tax. Lewis looked at a breakdown of the marketing fund expenses that Rakowski provided and called attention to the categories of personnel services and administration, which accounted for 26 percent.

"That's one out of four dollars we're collecting going to nothing tangible ... that isn't going to the ultimate goal," Lewis said.

Councilwoman Markey Butler questioned why there wasn't a ceiling on the marketing fund.

"That's my biggest issue with this 2.5 percent is it could just go up and up, ... and what do you get at the end of the day?" she said.

Hugh Templeman, general manager of the Viceroy Snowmass, argued that putting a ceiling on the fund goes against the Marketing, Special Events and Group Sales Board's purpose.

"If business grows, we need to grow marketing with it," Templeman said. "The entire process for our community is to bring more and more people. ... It is not time to cut. It is time to develop."

Councilman Fred Kucker said he didn't think sales tax affected whether tourists buy something.

"They may complain, but they're still going to buy it," Kucker said. "In terms of locals, there are lots of things merchants could do to help. ... One concern I do have is if other entities start kicking up (their rates)."

Butler questioned whether this was the most important issue the council needed to deal with now.

"I think that for myself, this issue comes back to some of the earlier issues we discussed," said Councilman Chris Jacobson, referring to a prior item in the meeting about the role of the marketing board.

Marketing-board members were seeking clarity on their roles in communicating with the Town Council and Snowmass Tourism. One request they made was that the council would have to seek the board's approval to make changes to the marketing-fund budget and to have the authority to move money around in broad categories of that fund without seeking council approval.

Jacobson said he felt uncomfortable with that request. He made a motion to discuss the item further in a work session, but his motion failed, 3-2.

Butler said the council needed to cooperate with the board, especially to make it easier to attract a good candidate for the Snowmass Tourism director position. Susan Hamley is retiring from that role this week.

"I can tell you this would not attract a qualified individual," Butler said.

Other action

The council approved a request to support a part-time executive director position for Ice Age Discovery programming. The Ice Age Discovery Committee recently hired John McCarter, former CEO of the Field Museum in Chicago, as a consultant to help it form a plan for how to increase awareness of the 2010 fossil dig at Ziegler Reservoir.

"What we're looking to do is get someone to lead the charge," said Rhonda Basil, who is acting as the executive director. "We recently went in front of the tourism board and received funds for this summer's programs."

Basil said an executive director would be able to start the long-term planning process for putting McCarter's suggestions into action beyond this summer.

The town approved budgeting $21,000 for the position from the general fund.

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The Aspen Times Updated Apr 9, 2013 07:39PM Published Apr 9, 2013 07:38PM Copyright 2013 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.