Death of a sales tax
July 15, 2002
I share local retailer Barry Gordon’s dismay at seeing viable tourist and local serving outlets like Aspen Drug replaced by yet another showcase for second-home properties.
As the commercial core is steadily transformed from local- and tourist-based retail to showcases and high end prestige outlets, the attractiveness of our resort to potential first-time visitors will continue to decline.
The disappearance of viable local- and tourist-serving stores is compounded by the declining number of local residents. Local residents pay an estimated 60 percent of all retail sales tax and, in spite of housing efforts, the number of locals actually living in the city and county is declining. (See the City of Aspen Housing Report and census data.)
The ongoing erosion of the local- and tourist-serving economy has been masked by the growth in the construction/second-home real estate economy.
Annual real estate sales of $1 billion in recent years, new residential construction value of $600 million and $60 million in real estate commissions have attracted more attention than the subtle, insidious decline of the retail trade sector.
In contrast to Gordon’s insightful analysis, Heidi Houston of Houston O’Leary Realty misses the forest of problems in grinding her ax over modest impact fees adopted in the year 2000 over her vigorous objections.
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Throughout the state, residential development is recognized as a drain on local communities (see http://www.sonoran.org). Even the large residences she ardently desires to further encourage pay a relatively tiny property tax of $220 per million in value to the general fund operations, including sheriff, roads, environmental quality, the courts and human services.
Ms. Houston’s solution to a weakening sales tax base feels like a retaliatory strike at the community for not obeying her commands. The people have been hesitatnt to foster even more luxury home development at public cost, so let them eat cake.
I don’t recall Ms. Houston ever acknowledging that the year following the land use reforms, 2001, was another record for her industry, featuring another $1 billion in real estate sales and generating about $60 million in commissions.
The plain truth is the sky didn’t fall because of a road impact fee that generates about $200,000 a year on a billion-dollar industry. And monster homes didn’t go extinct simply because some were required to buy transferable development rights.
I believe the corruption and chicanery in the dot com and energy industries that popped the stock market bubble has also adversely affected her industry, even as the nation’s inability to reform the financial market continues to undermine so many innocent investments in retirement plans.
If luxury home sales are off because some infamous CEOs are now forced to cut back to two or three homes in Aspen, that’s hardly the fault of a road impact that adds .08 percent to the cost of a $10 million dollar property.
I believe Ms. Houston and her industry have profited mightily from the community’s restraints on growth, its investment in protecting the wildlife (featured in so many real estate ads) and our willingness to help seniors and less prosperous citizens.
I hope that she can find it in her heart to spare the $120 or so tax deductible dollars that it would cost her to help the community maintain the quality services that have helped maintain this as a humane, caring and wonderful place to reside full or part time.
Pitkin County Commissioner