Local sales taxes firmly back in record territory
EAGLE COUNTY — Sales tax is the lifeblood of municipal revenue. In the boom years before the 2008 national economic slump hit full force, record revenues were the rule. It took some time for the valley’s towns, and Eagle County, to recover from the decline of 2009.
The first town to come back was Vail, in 2012. That recovery came after a 14 percent revenue decline between the last of the good years and first of the lean years.
Eagle County dropped even farther, falling more than 25 percent between 2008 and 2010.
Vail’s relatively quick comeback came due to its status as the valley’s economic powerhouse, and the town’s decision to put a lot of focus — and seed money — into events. Those events, mostly in the summer, led to record revenues for that season relatively quickly. Winter revenues, and revenues overall, took a bit longer to recover.
In Avon, revenues surpassed 2008’s numbers in 2013.
Minturn’s revenues — while just a fraction of those posted in Vail and Avon — also recovered in 2013.
Minturn Economic Development Coordinator Michelle Metteer said that town also committed itself to improving and introducing events. That effort includes the summer and winter markets, as well as events ranging from film presentations to concerts to drive-in movies, many of which are held at the town’s Little Beach Park.
In addition to the events, Metteer said the Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy, along with Ski & Snowboard Club Vail, have brought in visitors for Nordic competitions and other events at the campus at Maloit Park.
“They’ve been a huge boost to our little economy,” Metteer said. “They more they grow, the more we benefit.”
Still, Metteer acknowledged, Minturn’s revenue reflects that of Vail and Avon, thanks in large part to the town’s restaurants.
It took a bit longer for downvalley towns to recover from the slump.
Gypsum’s sales taxes were the first to recover, in 2014. Gypsum Finance Director Mark Silverthorn said the recovery came from the town’s two primary sales tax generators: the Eagle County Regional Airport, followed by Costco.
Silverthorn said the airport is the biggest piece of the town’s revenue pie. And, although passenger numbers at the airport started falling in 2008 and only bottomed out in 2016, the revenues there did recover, due primarily to sales taxes on fuel sales and car rentals.
Before 2015, the town of Eagle’s record revenue year was in 2007. The old mark was finally surpassed at the end of 2015, after another dip in 2013. Since the end of 2014, the town’s sales taxes have climbed rapidly — 24 percent in all.
In an email, town of Eagle Finance Director Jill Ewing wrote that several factors may have helped.
The town’s roundabout projects were finished in 2014, meaning it was easier to get around, and through, the town. A recovering economy has resulted in large increases in revenue from virtually every sales-tax-paying business, from food to retail to liquor to lodging.
The town has also put a lot of time, effort and money into building and promoting trails. Again, events have played a role.
Impact of Weather
As the local economy has recovered, new businesses have come to town, too. Ewing wrote that business license revenue has grown by about 20 percent.
Eagle County doesn’t depend as much on sales tax revenue as the towns do. And, while all the towns pay a 1 percent county sales tax, most of the revenue-producing business in the county is in the towns.
The county, too, only recently recovered from the 2008 crash, finally passing the 2008 record in 2015.
While year-to-year figures are strong at the moment, there can still be weak months. November of 2016 was abnormally dry, which led to dips around the valley.
Vail’s collections were off 5.6 percent from the budget estimates. Eagle County was also off in November, with sales taxes down more than 21 percent from the same period in 2015.
Outside of greater economic trends, prosperity in the valley still depends on the weather.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org and @scottnmiller.