March weak for sales tax revenues |

March weak for sales tax revenues

ASPEN Aspen residents and tourists spent the first part of this year – and a significant portion of their bank accounts – furnishing their homes and adorning their bodies with jewelry. That’s the latest to come out of Aspen City Hall, which on Monday released sales tax collections for March and the first quarter of 2007.The highest increase year-to-date was in jewelry, which has generated a little more than $3 million – a 38.7 percent spike over 2006.General retail, which consists of furniture stores, construction companies, hardware stores and similar businesses, experienced a huge jump this year, likely because of an increase in remodeling and construction. The industry reflected a 33 percent increase for the month over last year and 29 percent, year to date.Most of Aspen’s other retail sectors were relatively flat or slightly down from last year for March, which is annually Aspen’s second-largest month in retail sales activity behind December. March resulted in only a 0.2 percent increase in retail sales for the month; however, sales are still reflecting a 4 percent increase over 2006. And even though March saw a slight increase, it set a new record for the month – $63 millionYear to date, Aspen sales tax collections are up 4 percent at $175.6 million.According to city finance director Paul Menter, abnormally warm weather and lower-than-average snowfall are to blame for the flat sales, but it’s still better than what it could have been.”March was pretty much flat from last year, but we’re happy, and of course, it’s snowing in May, which doesn’t help us now,” he said.Aspen’s largest retail sector – tourist accommodations – increased only 1.6 percent in March over the same period last year. However, that change was on the heels of a 12 percent increase in March 2006 and a 12.6 percent increase in March 2005.Lodging tax collection for March was down 0.5 percent from March 2006. But year-to-date collections through March are up 7.4 percent from last year. Restaurants and bars, Aspen’s second-largest retail sector, finished this year in a virtual dead heat with March 2006, declining 0.1 percent. Taxable retail sales in this industry have remained consistent since 2005, bringing in $10.9 million in each of the past three years.And because of the warmer weather, heating homes required less energy, and thus sales tax collections for this category were down a little more than 6 percent.Year to date, Wheeler real estate transfer tax collections through April 2007 are $1.6 million – down 13 percent for the same four-month period in 2006. However, they are 36 percent ahead of budget projections. The year-to-date housing real estate transfer tax collections through April 2007 are $3 million – down 6 percent from 2006 and 30 percent ahead of conservative budget projections.”I’m getting the impression that there is a lot of [real estate] activity outside of the city,” Menter said. “But you know, it only takes two $10 million transactions to bring those numbers up.”Carolyn Sackariason’s e-mail address is

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