All this gain, and still a loss?
Where to start? At the beginning of this week, December’s sales tax numbers were released, and I can only say that I was more than a little stunned by the results.All during the Christmas holidays I kept hearing reports of “record sales,” “best year ever,” “finally like the old days again.”So you can imagine my surprise when the tally showed December’s increase was a meager 0.8 percent over December 2002, which we all know wasn’t a banner year. The report goes further to say that compared to the previous December, retail was down 4.5 percent, lodging up 4 percent, F&B up 5.4 percent and “other” increased by 6.9 percent.As for year-to-date figures, there was an overall decrease of 3.7 percent, while retail was down 4.2 percent, lodging down 3.6 percent, F&B up 0.4 percent and “other” down 10.4 percent. Somehow, the end result wasn’t as good as it felt it was going to be, with December barely squeaking past the previous year and YTD actually down from 2002.I guess it might not have seemed quite so remarkable were it not for a couple of other coincidental matters. I was handed the December numbers during last week’s Town Council work session. As I was perusing the information, the meeting proceeded according to schedule. Bravo! had an item on the agenda with support information stating that their programs had generated $7.4 million in incremental spending for the Vail Valley with an increase of $4.8 million for Vail specifically. In another packet, during an update on the Whitewater park, the claim was made that it had generated up to $1.9 million in incremental sales with $1.4 million coming from the Teva Mountain Games alone.My interest was further piqued by a request by the Vail Local Marketing District. Their presentation was later tabled due to a error in noticing, but the information was available, which I reviewed. I also went back and dug out last month’s packet that indicated that through their efforts alone, the TOV had benefited from $24.9 million in increased spending.And only because I had the information easily accessible, I resurrected the proposal for Octoberfest, which took credit for $3.6 million in incremental spending.I could have gone on, but I had enough that my curiosity was aroused.While these numbers were spinning in my head, I still wasn’t sure what they meant. But I did assemble a few thoughts.To begin with, if all of these claims are indeed accurate, it seems as though the economy of the town of Vail ought to be better than it is. I’m not ready to buy the theory that if we hadn’t done all of these things, it could have been worse. I am also somewhat distrustful of numbers. They aren’t always as absolute as they might appear.So here’s the question: These four programs alone – and I’m not picking on them, they’re just available examples – represent 10 percent of the town of Vail sales tax revenues. Last year’s sales tax revenue was down 3.7 percent. Does that mean without them, we would have been down 13.7 percent?But I had an even more curious thought. Is it possible that each of these entities is claiming to have produced the same exact dollar? Is the VLMD generating $24.9 million separate from the $4.8 million generated by Bravo! – which the VLMD promotes – or are they taking credit for the same dollars? Or should the VLMD claim any dollars that come directly from the guest on the street during Octoberfest? Is in fact every organization’s plea for funding supported by financial results that are also claimed by another entity also petitioning for financial support?This is definitely one of those topics that can go around and around. I think maybe the only real conclusion to be drawn is that care must be taken when looking at any of these figures.As we all know, they can be made to represent whatever supports the intent of the preparer. And I think a fair assumption is that each entity is focused on presenting the best possible picture of their personal contribution to the Vail economy.Finally, let’s not get too excited with patting each other on the back when the net result of all of this is still a decrease in sales tax revenues.NOT PREPARED? There was a vote last Tuesday night on Streetscape. It passed 6-1. The dissent was from Mr. Moffet and his reason was the puzzling part. He claimed he was not prepared because there was a lack of detailed knowledge of the project. Huh? It’s been on more agendas than anyone cares to remember. So how can a Town Council person be lacking information?Say you’re against the plan, but don’t sit there with four years under your belt, at the start of your second term, with reams of paper on the subject, and say you’re not prepared to vote on a huge project. Isn’t that the job?ONCE AGAIN: The line is being broached if not entirely crossed. The VLMD voted to add “Vail Valley” to the Prima campaign. This is funded with lodging tax dollars that clearly were meant to fund Vail promotions exclusively.WHO’D HAVE BELIEVED IT! It hardly seems possible that tomorrow will mark one year of writing this column. And it’s truly been an interesting experience. I’ve had my fair share of critics and that’s as it should be.But I’ve had far more support, and for that I say thanks. In my very first column I said that I had two goals: to provide you with information that you might not otherwise get, and give you another way of looking at things. I hope I have done both. Besides, it would truly be a boring world if we all agreed on everything.Cars on the Frontage Road: Friday, 69; Saturday, 269; Sunday, zero.Do your part: call them and write them.To contact the Town Council, call 479-1860, ext. 8, or e-mail email@example.com. To contact Vail Resorts, call 476-5601 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. For past columns, vaildaily.com-columnists or search:ferry.Kaye Ferry is a longtime observer of Vail government. She writes a weekly column for the Daily.