City: Aspen’s downhill slide to continue |

City: Aspen’s downhill slide to continue

ASPEN ” City officials’ projections of March sales tax revenue appear to be more dismal than any of the last three months’ declines.

In his state of the city address at the Aspen Chamber Resort Association annual luncheon Wednesday, City Manager Steve Barwick said he and his staff are projecting a 22 percent decline in sales tax for March ” a month that is typically one of the largest revenue generators for local businesses.

That’s worse than December (down 19 percent), January (down 17 percent) and February (down 19 percent). City officials are projecting overall sales tax revenue to be down 12 percent for 2009.

Barwick said those figures are compared against the economic boom of 2008 even though declines were realized in October, November and December.

“The wheels came off,” he said. “We’re projecting to be down 20 percent from peak. That’s a pretty hard hit.”

Barwick said revenue levels are reminiscent of what the local economy was like three years ago.

“It’s a reset to the levels of 2005,” he said. “That’s how far we’ve dropped.”

Aspen appears to have fared worse than most resorts in February ” Vail was down 18 percent in sales tax revenue; Glenwood Springs, 17 percent; and Steamboat at 20 percent, according to Barwick.

“Perhaps we are too much of a niche resort … a little narrow,” said Mayor Mick Ireland after the luncheon about why Aspen is being hit harder than other resorts. “We need to broaden our base.”

Looking at Aspen’s January sales tax figures, retail was down between 25 and 30 percent while lodging was down 20 percent. But bars and restaurants held steady, Barwick noted.

“It’s clear people are still partying,” he said.

City Hall has slashed its general fund by 11 percent, laid off about a dozen employees, reduced employees’ pay by 4 percent and is establishing a citizen financial advisory committee to help guide officials through the rest of the year. Barwick said he expects there will be further cuts to the city budget in 2010.

And while the city government continues to take cost-cutting measures, it has beefed up its marketing and special events. The Aspen City Council this week agreed to give the ACRA an additional $200,000 for a heightened summer marketing campaign. Another $60,000 was given to the city’s special events department to host three new events ” one around Halloween, Christmas and in the summer.

Stan Clauson, chair of the ACRA board, said the council’s increased financial commitment for marketing is key in furthering the chamber’s mission in promoting the resort.

“It’s an extremely important gesture toward putting our community on the map,” he said.

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