News in Brief | AspenTimes.com

News in Brief

Pitkin County’s financial advisory board has been asked to do the impossible: predict the growth in sales tax, property tax and investment income for the next five years and generate a long-range budget. Projections were positive when the board met with Pitkin County commissioners Tuesday.Debe Nelson of the Pitkin County finance office, and a member of the financial advisory board, predicts a 5.3 percent increase in sales tax in the next five years.”Assuming that we’ll have one bad year in the next five,” Nelson said, “A 5.3 percent increase is a conservative estimate.””We’ve had good growth since 9/11,” Nelson said. After a sharp drop in visitors in 2001, numbers have increased steadily, from the negative in 2002 and 2003, to an 8.4 percent sales tax growth in 2004.”We are rebounding nicely,” Nelson said, and in “real dollars” adjusted for inflation, sales tax income and increase is back to the pre-9/11 high.Projections look good for the coming years, but the 5.3 percent estimated increase assumes that there will be some downturns.The county has a $4 million contingency fund in case of shortfall.The board discussed the many factors in estimating sales tax: the increase in second-home owners in the area, the length of time that visitors spend in the county, “fractional ownership” housing, or timeshares, and whether folks are using their allotted time. The board discussed unpredictable factors like snowfall, as well as the general health of the economy and the impact of any unforeseeable catastrophe – such as 9/11.The board gave general approval to Nelson’s sales tax estimates as well as estimated property tax and investment income.

A new and improved radio communications system will be in the hands of Garfield County law enforcement, possibly by the end of the year, thanks to grants from Homeland Security and the state Department of Local Affairs.Once it’s up and running, the Digital Trunk Radio system will give emergency responders a digital radio network far superior to the one in place now.Running at 800 megahertz, the radios will replace a VHF system that runs on 105 MHz, said Garfield County Communications Authority executive director Carl Stephens.”They don’t need a lot of towers and there are more mutual aid channels,” which will allow emergency responders – firemen, cops and ambulance drivers – to speak to each other, Stephens saidCurrently, if Basalt firefighters respond to a fire in Garfield County “they don’t have Rifle’s channels in their radios,” said Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario. (Glenwood Springs Post Independent)