Rifle sales tax numbers continue to drop

Heidi Rice
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

RIFLE, Colo. ” At the end of February, the city’s sales, lodging and use tax incomes were down, but it wasn’t much to worry about. But the figures for March are now in, and city officials are starting to get a little bit concerned.

The year-to-date figures from January through March 2009 compared to 2008 are down 7 percent. The January and February numbers were down 4.4 percent, though January had seen a 1 percent increase.

But things have taken a turn for the worse: March saw a 20 percent decline.

“March wasn’t as good as I’d hoped,” said Finance Director Charles Kelty. “It was a big drop for March.”

The biggest decline was in the oil and gas category, with a 77 percent decline in March and 41 percent through the first three months of the year.

“But it wasn’t a huge surprise, the way the industry is going,” Kelty said.

Car parts and sales declined 43 percent in March with a 28 percent decline in the year so far, and motels dropped 13 percent in March with a 21 percent decline in the year to date.

What did surprise Kelty was the 15 percent decrease in general retail sales in March, with a 7 percent decrease year to date.

“I was a little surprised by the general retail,” Kelty said. “It’s probably because people are not spending as much of their discretionary funds right now.”

Motels have been consistently down with a 21 percent decline year to date and 13 percent for March, which Kelty said is not much of a surprise as it most likely reflects the loss of some oil and gas industry employees in recent months.

Bars and restaurants are down 5 percent year to date, but 16 percent in March.

“I think people are not going out to eat as much,” Kelty speculated.

On the other hand, liquor sales have been up, with a 13 percent increase year to date.

The leasing/miscellaneous category saw a 335 percent increase, but Kelty said that was due to an unforeseen one-time tax payment in the amount of $84,000 for the month of February, which did not arrive until the March processing period had begun.

For now, the city is watching things very carefully, but there is no cause for alarm.

“We’re monitoring things very carefully,” Kelty said. “It’s a little bit of a concern and at this point, we’re taking a wait-and-see approach. I think we’re going to be OK this year, but it’s a matter of watching the numbers as they come in.”