Scott Condon
The Aspen Times

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January 2, 2014
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Basalt sales tax collections top prerecession level

Basalt town government’s sales tax revenues soared past prerecession levels in 2013.

The town has collected $3.71 million for the 2013 fiscal year so far, according to a report by the town finance department. That reflects sales by businesses from December 2012 through October. That is significantly higher than tax revenues at this point in the year for each of the past four years. It also tops 2008, when the town collected $3.53 million over the 11 months.

Retail food sales are leading the charge. Revenues from supermarkets accounted for nearly half of the total for the year. The grocery stores have combined for $1.79 million in sales tax revenues, an increase of 32.5 percent from the prior year, the report said.

The town doesn’t report on the sales tax paid by individual businesses. Tax revenues are lumped into general categories.

The report highlights a dichotomy in the Basalt business community — overall sales are soaring, but many downtown businesses are struggling. Some shops have closed in the Riverwalk project and elsewhere downtown, and more closures and downsizings are planned, according to Bennett Bramson, a real estate agent with Aspen Snowmass Sotheby’s International Realty who is active in the Basalt commercial market.

A lot of the sales tax surge is due to the success of Willits Town Center, Bramson said. Whole Foods Market was open for a full year for the first time in 2013.

“On the other side, there were high lease prices that forced some businesses out,” Bramson said, referring to the downtown core.

Town Manager Mike Scanlon said the recession was tough on small business retail establishments nationwide. “So it’s not surprising to me the difficulties we see in small retail — we aren’t unique in that,” Scanlon said.

The town government will begin efforts later this month to plan the future of its downtown. “We need to not only rethink the land use but the building use and business mix,” Scanlon said. “We can only do that if we get the businesses and property owners involved in the discussion.”

A coalition of merchants and restaurateurs formed the Basalt Downtown Business Association in October to help market the commercial core. The town government pledged to provide aid of up to $50,000 per year for each of the next three years as a matching grant for membership dues the association collects.

Bramson said he believes the downtown core will bounce back. “I’ve never been one from the Chicken Little school,” he said. He has asked town officials to temporarily ease restrictions on office on ground floor spaces in the core. That would allow vacancies to be filled, he said.

Scanlon said he is also optimistic that the “best days” for downtown Basalt aren’t over, as long as the community works together on a plan.

The latest sales tax report by the town shows many types of businesses have experienced a strong year. Sales by general retail shops are up 22 percent over last year. Sporting goods retail shops have seen sales rise 20 percent over last year. Liquor store sales are up a robust 16 percent.

Other types of businesses logged more modest gain or even losses in other big areas. Restaurants with bars have posted only a 0.33 percent increase in sales this year. Automotive-related businesses are up 4.25 percent. Businesses selling building materials are up nearly 4 percent. Lodging sales are up slightly more than 2 percent.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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