Mixed messages in midvalley sales tax

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

BASALT – June saw Carbondale post its first increase in sales tax collections for the month since the recession struck, but Basalt’s numbers kept falling during the first busy month of the summer.

Carbondale eked out a 1.9 percent increase compared to June 2009. It was the first month-to-month increase for the town since October 2008. However, through June, Carbondale’s year-to-date sales remained down 8.7 percent.

Basalt’s sales tax collections in June were down 2.3 percent, according to a report by town Finance Director Judi Tippetts. Town officials were eager to see the data because they felt shops, restaurants and service providers were finally recovering from the recession’s grip. Some are, but not enough to turn the overall numbers around. The overall numbers don’t necessarily reflect the performance of individuals shops, eateries and other businesses.

Tippetts’ report said there were “a couple of exciting things worth noting” despite the decrease in overall June sales. First, sales in the retail food category were virtually flat compared to June 2009.

“This is very important since retail food represents about 37 percent of our total sales tax,” Tippetts said.

The category includes City Market and Clark’s Market.

The second development Tippetts noted was the strength of the general retail category, which includes many of the town’s mom-and-pop shops. Retail sales were up 14 percent in June.

“Retail sales accounts for nearly 19 percent of our total sales tax and [is] one of the categories that we watch carefully,” Tippetts wrote in her report.

For the town’s fiscal year, December through June, sales have eroded another 6 percent from a poor 2009. However, there are bright spots. Restaurants with bars have increased sales by 2.2 percent. Retail sales are holding steady. Sporting goods retail is up 2.8 percent.

On the other side of the ledger, retail food is down 7.1 percent. Building materials dropped 25.5 percent from 2009 and are less than half of the 2008 level. Sales in the automotive category are off 12.1 percent. Even liquor store sales have dropped so far this year, off 9.4 percent through June compared to the same period the prior year.

Through the first seven months of the 2008 fiscal year, Basalt collected $2.15 million in sales tax revenues. Last year that sagged to $1.92 million. And this year, it’s down to $1.81 million.