Are `taxes’ too high in Snowmass? |

Are `taxes’ too high in Snowmass?

Brent Gardner-Smith

Merchants in Snowmass Village are complaining that a recent hike in retail assessments by the Snowmass Village Resort Association is causing consumer backlash.”Many of our customers feel they are being abused,” said Dick Kelly, who owns Village Liquors on the Snowmass Mall. “My customers are telling me that 10 percent is the top limit.”The SVRA recently raised its “civic assessment” on retail and restaurant sales in Snowmass Village from 2.3 percent to 3.25 percent, which, on top of the combined state, county and municipal sales tax of 7.4 percent, puts the perceived sales tax level in Snowmass Village at 10.65 percent.”It’s a problem,” said Michael Flak, who owns the Shirt Off My Back store in Snowmass. “They are floored when they get an 11 percent tax on their bill.”The sales tax in Aspen recently rose from 8.2 percent to 8.6 percent as a result of voters approving a tax increase for open space purchases.Flak’s wife, Sherry, who runs the Local Color clothing store on the mall, told the SVRA board that ski shops with outlets in both Snowmass and Aspen were being asked by customers to ring up purchases of new equipment in their Aspen stores in order to avoid the combination of assessments and taxes in Snowmass.Other customers, disbelieving their receipts, are asking merchants to re-ring their purchases, Sherry Flak said.”It’s a determent to the way our customers perceive us,” she said. “They feel Snowmass should be lower priced than Aspen, not higher.”Michael Flak told the SVRA board that the sales tax has “always been a negative, but this year there has been a big bump-up in comments” from customers.Derek Johnson, of D&E Snowboard shops, holds one of three retail representative seats on the 14-member SVRA board, and he, too, was critical of the civic assessment hike.”It was sprung on us,” he said. “You truly have taxation without representation.”The chairman of the SVRA board, Hiram Champlin, said the decision to raise the civic assessment was not made lightly, but said “we’re significantly under the gun, budget-wise,” and that revenue would help cover the costs of events and activities, such as a Jazz Aspen at Snowmass and summer chairlift rides, which are free to visitors.In a September letter to merchants, the SVRA said the assessment increase was needed in part to help fund a new conference center in Snowmass. Those plans have now been put on hold.”We are saying goodbye to the new conference center,” said Jim France, the new president of SVRA.The SVRA, which was formed in the late 1960s to market and manage the resort, has the ability to levy both civic and “common” assessments, which are similar to sales and property taxes, but, as the organization takes pains to point out, are not technically taxes.The organization uses the revenue from assessments to market the resort, put on special events and pay for activities such as summer chairlift rides, although it can also use the funds for other operating costs associated with its conference center or central reservations divisions.Today, on a $100 purchase at a store on the Snowmass Mall, the state requires that the civic assessment is levied first, so the purchase will cost a consumer $103.25.Then, the 7.4 percent sales tax in the town is collected on $103.25, making the purchase cost $110.89.The end result, say some local merchants, is a perception by their customers that the “sales tax” in Snowmass Village is 10.65 percent.When asked about the “tax,” merchants often explain that a portion of it goes to the SVRA which markets the resort.Michael Flak said the response from customers is often then along the lines of “So we’re footing the bill for Snowmass to bring more customers next year?”Flak plans to keep working on the issue to at least get the assessment reduced so the combination of the assessment and sales tax is under 10 percent.”That seems to be the magic number,” he said.

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