Rifle's business community fared slightly worse in 2012 than those in other Garfield County municipalities, according to the latest sales tax numbers from across the region.
Data from the city of Rifle shows sales tax receipts were down by 2 percent in 2012 compared to 2011, from about $6.5 million to near $6.4 million.
Building and motor vehicle use tax
revenue showed a similar decline, but the lodging industry in Rifle was hardest hit: Revenue garnered from the city's lodging tax dropped in 2012 by more than $20,000, to a total of roughly $109,000, after several hotels in Rifle closed.
"It's a bit mysterious," said Rifle Finance Director Charles Kelty. "The last three to four months of the year, we were down anywhere between 10 and 15 percent."
"I would consider two percent down to be a positive number," said Gary Miller, who owns Miller's Dry Goods in downtown Rifle.
"Everyone is just so darn conservative right now, we're selling a lot of 'needs,' but not a lot of 'wants,'" said Miller.
He noted that his sales were down in 2012 compared to 2011, largely due to a decline in spending by the natural gas industry, which buys work clothes from his store.
Overall, Rifle's general fund revenues dropped by two percent as well, from about $8.8 million to just over $8.6 million.
Mostly treading water in the lower Roaring Fork Valley
New Castle and Parachute fared slightly better than Rifle in 2012, with sales tax increases of less than two percent apiece over 2011.
In New Castle, sales tax revenues went from $1.03 million in 2011 to $1.05 million in 2012, while in Parachute revenues were flat or up just slightly from their level of $1.1 million in 2011.
"Last year, we had a couple of little bumps with the construction of the Parachute interchange, but it's basically a holding pattern," said Parachute Town Administrator Robert Knight.
Between 2008 to 2009, Knight said, sales tax revenues dropped by more than 50 percent due to the recession, and have mostly held steady at just over $1 million since.
"We've gotten down to our base economy," said Knight. "We fired about a third of our staff, and we are operating in skeletal mode."
In sharp contrast to its neighboring towns, Silt saw a 16 percent increase in sales tax revenue in 2012 compared to the previous year, thanks largely to the opening of a new Dollar General Store, according to Town Administrator Pamela Wood.
There, revenue went from just over $381,000 to $443,000 between 2011 and 2012.
Overall, signs of economic recovery were much more evident in the upper Roaring Fork Valley, as Carbondale and Glenwood Springs both saw increases of more than 5 percent in their sales tax revenue in 2012, compared to the previous year.
"Some people say the recession started in Aspen and worked its way down to Rifle," said Rifle Mayor Jay Miller. "The recovery has started in Aspen, and we hope it's working its way down this direction."
Across Colorado, a recent survey done by the Colorado Municipal League shows many towns and cities entering 2013 with either increases in revenue (47 percent) or no major change in revenue (31 percent).
That voluntary survey also showed large cities faring better than small towns, and cities on the Front Range faring better than those in other parts of the state.
More than 80 percent of large Front Range cities report increased revenue for 2012, as compared with 54 percent of municipalities on the Western Slope and 18 percent on the Eastern Plains.