City of Aspen doles out $177K in food tax refunds

Staff report

The city of Aspen recently doled out just over $177,000 to residents for refunds on food purchases they made last year.

The city in the past month issued 1,325 checks to Aspen residents or households this year. People who can prove they lived in the city for all of 2017 were entitled to a $55 refund check; senior citizens and disabled persons received more.

There are 6,400 registered voters in Aspen who could be eligible for the tax.

Aspen City Council voted in February to raise the refund $5. It had been $50 since 1998.

With all the refunds combined, the city issued $177,485 for 2017. That’s not much more than 2016, when $175,660 was mailed out.

In the 1970s, voters approved a 1 percent sales tax, which applied to food purchases. Because many cities in Colorado have long exempted food purchases from their sales tax, Aspen officials decided to leave the tax on but refund a fixed amount per person who had lived in the city the previous year. The refund at the time was $7.

In 1972, voters approved raising the sales tax to 2 percent, resulting in the refund amount tripling to $21. That tax hike also was to pay for food-tax refunds as well as land acquisitions, capital improvements, general operating purposes and other purposes, city records show. The refund was raised to $39 in 1981.

Some City Council members earlier this year argued that it’s a regressive tax and it should benefit those less fortunate.

Members of the public argued that it should be raised annually for inflation.

But in the end, council agreed a modest $5 was adequate.