EAGLE COUNTY — If you’re looking for an example of the local economy’s gradual recovery from the dark days of 2009, sales tax is a good place to start.
Sales tax revenue is the primary source of income for most towns in Colorado. When collections fall off, so do town budgets. The revenue drop in the county was a steep one in 2009, with collections falling 20 percent or more, followed by a slow recovery since 2010.
Vail has led the way in that recovery in overall dollars going into town coffers, with town sales tax collections now exceeding 2008, the last of the boom years of the previous decade. The rest of the county has come back more slowly, but the comeback does continue.
According to figures from the Eagle County Finance Department, projections show county sales tax revenue — which is collected both in town and unincorporated areas such as Edwards — to increase about 3.7 percent this year.
Actual collections so far have been running ahead of that estimate, although the unincorporated areas of the county have declined slightly.
In Avon, recovery from the depths of the recession is nearly complete, with the strongest year-over-year growth in the county. Sales tax collections for the first five months of the year are running 16.7 percent ahead of 2012. In an email, town manager Virginia Egger said town officials expect the town will exceed 2008 collections this year.
Downvalley towns are recovering, too. In Gypsum, town finance director Mark Silverthorn said collections to date so far this year are about $11,000 less than the similar period in 2008, still the high-water mark for collections there. Sales tax in Gypsum comes from two main sources — Costco and the Eagle County Regional Airport, showing growth in both shopping and travel.
The town of Eagle has a more conventional economy, in that it depends in large part on local residents buying things at stores in town.
Jon Stavney, Eagle’s town manager, said town sales tax collections increased 6.8 percent for the first two quarters of this year over 2012. Collections in 2012 saw a similar increase over 2011.
“With half of this year in the books, we’re back to 2008 levels,” Stavney said.
Most of that increase comes from food sales, Stavney said, and particularly from City Market, the town’s primary grocery store.
Vail Valley Partnership President Chris Romer happened to be in Stavney’s office when he was interviewed for this story. Romer said Vail’s rapid comeback in sales tax collections came from both strength in the resort market and from the money put into new hotels, restaurants and shops between about 2002 and 2012.
“Eagle and Gypsum are showing strength in the local economy, and that’s an equally good sign,” he said.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2939 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.