Marolt: Cracking the joke that is our sales tax rate

Roger Marolt
Cluster Phobic
Roger Marolt

Now that Related Amalgamated & Associates, Inc., LLC has packed its baggage and mercifully announced its departure from our town just in the truckload of nicks of time and Aspen Skiing Co. has suddenly become four generations removed from being the initiators of utter real estate development stupidity, this village needs a new idiot to castigate.

Oh, the possibilities! Time to peruse the list.

That’s going to take some time, though. In the meantime, can we agree that our bumptious sales tax needs to be taken down a few notches? Or at least put to some better uses?

Seriously. Our sales tax rate is 10.4 percent. That’s more than a Tea Partier’s tip for dinner at The Red Meat Diner. And, what do we spend most of that money on? Marketing. Here in the village we have created an industry to support our industry.

The thing about the gob of sales tax revenues we have been collecting and spending on marketing here over the past 20-plus years is that, no matter how you look at it, it can’t be justified anymore. I mean, if all that money we’ve spent had fulfilled its expectations and we created a strong commercial brand for Snowmass Village as a result, then we could reduce the spending to more normal levels to help sustain it. If, on the other hand, all that spending over the years hasn’t built and fortified our image so that it can stand by itself with just a little annual polish, then our plan hasn’t worked and we should quit wasting money on it.

Logically, it’s easy to look at a double-digit sales tax add-on to our purchases and tell ourselves that the difference between it and, say, a more normal 8.5 percent tax rate doesn’t amount to squat. We could say the same thing about gas at $3.25 a gallon versus $2.98. But, we don’t. These are psychological price tag attractors that cause anxiety and negative emotions in consumers.

This kind of thing is even more critical to consider here by the village’s people. Since the day they flipped the switch on the Fanny Hill lift back in 1967, we have been tasked with solving the Gordian Knot that’s hanging string is the road between here and Aspen. Our visitors love to ski Snowmass, but they are dying to shop and dine in Glitter Gulch afterward. Not blizzards, traffic jams, nor elk mating in the fields of Owl Creek are enough to deter them from packing the rental cars and heading nine miles east to spend their money.

So, why on Venus have we created with our sales tax another incentive for visitors to ditch us for the evenings? Maybe we need to spend a few marketing dollars to explain that, if it is even possible. What we would have to say is that we’ve created a big disincentive for them to spend money here in order to entice them to spend money here. Hmmm … we’re kidding, right? No, we are as serious about this as we have been for the past two decades.

I wonder if we have ever considered this: If we lower the sales tax and more people spend more money here because of it, is it possible that we might even collect more sales taxes just because of the lower rate?

OK, I know how hard it would be to change things around and slay this monster, but it’s not as hard as watching our town in perpetual struggle to gain retail traction. Our efforts here strike me like an image of a bald-tired Hummer with Pat Smith driving and Jim Crown riding shotgun, trying to spin its way out of the center of Base Village for a decade.

And, here’s the last thing and then I’ll shut up about this (for a week or so): While Aspen designates a portion of its lower sales tax percentage to funding our, yes I said “our,” public schools, Snowmass Village doesn’t use any of our sales taxes for this actually useful and noble purpose. This, in spite of the fact that a higher proportion of our population’s kids are enrolled in the Aspen School District than Aspen’s kids. That’s just wrong.

So, this is a two-pronged harangue. First of all, we need to lower our sales tax rate — I don’t care how much political paperwork shuffling it takes. And, secondly, we need to spend our sales tax collections more wisely and purposefully. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel here; we just need to make sure ours have some tread.

Roger Marolt is excited about the prospects of shopping in Beaver Creek South with a lower sales tax rate.