Basalt town government expects big hit to sales tax revenues
Basalt town government will move ahead with road maintenance projects once the weather warms this spring, but other spending on capital improvements will be deferred until the economic fallout of the coronavirus crisis becomes clear.
Moving ahead with maintaining town streets makes good economic sense because delaying will result in more costly repairs, Town Manager Ryan Mahoney said. Council agreed last week and approved a couple of contracts for about $325,000 from the general fund. That will cover milling and overlay of asphalt or crack sealing in areas including the roundabout near the Basalt Store as well as portions of Frying Pan Road and Two Rivers Road. Another $75,000 to $100,000 will be spent from special restricted funds for maintenance of Willits Lane, according to Mahoney.
Basalt, like most cities and towns across the U.S., is expecting a big economic blow because so many businesses are shut down because of the pandemic. Basalt relies on sales taxes for about 60% of its general fund revenue. The 2020 general fund budget anticipated $4.57 million in sales tax revenue out of total revenue of $7.58 million. Sales tax revenue also fuels the parks, open space and trails fund.
The projection for revenue has obviously has been blown up by the coronavirus. Grocery store sales make up about 35% of the town’s sales tax revenue.
Grocery and liquor sales have surged during March but just abut everything else has crashed. The balance will unfold in the coming weeks or months.
The Aspen Times posed questions to Mahoney and town finance director Christy Hamrick about the budget issues.
Aspen Times: Obviously, retail food sales are surging while most other categories are falling. General retail, sporting goods retail, lodging and restaurants have been hit as hard as any sector. How do you think the increase in grocery sales will compare to the loss in other areas?
Mahoney and Hamrick: We are a state-collected sales tax entity, and therefore, this information will be available for March’s sales in mid-April. That being said, we do anticipate that the loss of sales tax in these other categories will have an impact on our overall revenue collections. Grocery sales will likely not make up for the cumulative loss in these other sectors, and could be seen as a one-time increase in March grocery sales. The longer-term affect related to job loss and other factors related to COVID-19 impacts will not be seen until April and beyond.
AT: One salvation might prove to be the ability to tax online sales. Is there an expectation of seeing that category go up?
Basalt: The impacts of COVID-19 will affect many areas, and it’s difficult to quantify those impacts. The town doesn’t separately track online sales. Those sales are categorized based upon the appropriate business type. We believe that online sales over the past year have resulted in an increase in our sales tax during that timeframe. However, the effects from job loss and other COVID-19 impacts also will likely have an impact to online sales.
AT: Realizing you don’t have a crystal ball, have you adjusted sales tax projections for 2020? If so, what’s the impact on the budget?
Basalt: The town is currently working diligently to finalize numbers for 2019, while watching for indicators of how much sales tax will be impacted. While the town has not yet estimated the impact that COVID-19 will have on the budget for this year, it is safe to say we are anticipating COVID-19 will have a profound impact on many of the town’s revenue line items.
AT: Are there any specific plans for reducing expenditures to match realignment of revenues?
Basalt: The town has not created specific plans for reducing expenses at this point. However, we are thoughtfully considering all budgeted expenses in the current 2020 budget prior to incurring the expenditure. We do anticipate having to eliminate expenses from the 2020 budget, which may include capital expenditures and non-essential items that can be delayed.
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