Aspen’s September sales tax revenue down 8 percent | AspenTimes.com

Aspen’s September sales tax revenue down 8 percent

Courtesy City of AspenAspen's retail economy, by sector, through the first nine months of the year. Tourist accommodations and the restaurant/bar business are the two largest segments of the overall retail economy.

ASPEN – The city of Aspen sales tax collections for September are down 8 percent from 2008, marking a single-digit monthly decline for the first time in 2009.

Previous months’ sales tax collections fluctuated between 10 and 24 percent down from last year, with March being the worst.

City Finance Director Don Taylor said while September’s sales tax collections are better than other months, the comparison is relative.

“We’re starting to compare year over year when the economy started slumping,” Taylor said of last fall when the financial crisis began. “Last September was down.”

During a town hall meeting held Wednesday, City Manager Steve Barwick noted that September 2008 was the start of the decline for Aspen and other tourist economies, and it’s not over yet.

“We’re still seeing quite a bit of decrease and that’s the case in other Colorado ski towns,” he said.

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But there is a glimmer of hope in Aspen’s economy, or at least in the world of local real estate – transfer tax revenue is up.

The Wheeler Opera House’s year-to-date Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT) collections through October were 6 percent over collections for the same period in 2008. Year-to-date RETT collections that fund the local affordable housing program were 5 percent above 2008 numbers.

Taylor said it appears that some large transactions went through, signaling positive movement in the local real estate market, but Aspen continues to feel the effects of a weak national industry.

Sales tax collections for tourist-oriented businesses in September didn’t fare well, according to Taylor. They include galleries, jewelry, tourist accommodations and specialty retail. Cumulatively, those four industries represent 33 percent of total annual taxable retail sales for the city.

A major hit for the city in August was Pitkin County’s portion of its sales tax revenue, which was down 21 percent from 2008. Taylor noted that’s a larger decrease than what the city’s decline was in August, which was 15 percent down over the same month in 2008.

Lodging tax collections for September were down 19 percent from the same month in 2008. Year-to-date collections through September were down 27 percent from 2008. Lodging tax revenue has fluctuated between 19 and 38 percent down each month in 2009 since last year.

csack@aspentimes.com