Glenwood braces for worst, hopes for best; smaller towns see silver glimmer in grim sales tax receipts
It was a tale of different cities as first-quarter sales tax returns came in for Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and New Castle, but April’s numbers are proving to be even more telling as to the economic impacts of a global pandemic.
Glenwood Springs saw a 6.7% drop in sales taxes through three months of the year, including a whopping 17.6% decrease in sales for March alone.
But, it “could have been worse,” said Steve Boyd, the city’s chief operating officer, given that much of Glenwood’s retail sales, restaurant and lodging activity came to a grinding halt in mid-March when the COVID-19 outbreak hit Colorado and businesses went into shutdown mode.
Some receipts for April are still being collected, “but we think we’ll be down around 35%” for that month, Boyd said.
“The numbers are definitely not what we anticipated at the beginning of the year, and in March we basically hit the revised COVID forecast,” he said.
Glenwood Springs has already begun preparing for a “worst-case” 50% reduction in sales tax revenues for the year by enacting several budget cuts. Among them are pay cuts for city employees and worker furlough days every pay period for full-time employees, plus layoffs for most seasonal part-time workers.
“We hope it won’t be that bad, and our target is to keep it at 20-25% (reduction) through the year,” Boyd said.
Neighboring New Castle and Carbondale, by contrast, saw the first quarter of the year start off strong — even when factoring in the second half of March.
Carbondale sales were up 6.7% for the first three months of the year, and look to be down about 7.3% in April, Town Manager Jay Harrington said.
New Castle actually saw its quarterly sales tax receipts come in 24% above the same three-month period last year through March, town Treasurer Loni Burk said.
April numbers will not be known until mid-June, she said, “so there is really no way to project that month accurately since it was the first full month of the shutdown,” Burk said.
For Carbondale, “we’re projecting we will be 9% below budget,” or 6% below 2019 sales taxes, Harrington said of the forecast for the remainder of the year.
The separate recreation sales and use tax fund is projected end May 14.6% below budget, he said.
“We’re pretty grateful to be where we are financially,” Harrington said. “There are segments that were hit really hard, including lodging, restaurants and bars.”
However, retail sales have remained up, in part due to online collections, Harrington said. Retail food sales also were up even into April, as were liquor and marijuana sales, he said.
Glenwood Springs did see some positive numbers in its first-quarter receipts, including stable sales in the general merchandise category, which includes Target and Walmart, a near 5.9% increase in miscellaneous retail sales, and a 10.9% increase in marijuana sales.
However, apparel/accessories saw a 13.6% drop compared to the first quarter of 2019, furniture/home furnishings fell 26.1%, eating/drinking establishments dropped 16.8% and food stores were off 6.9%.
Boyd said he will approach City Council toward the end of June to reevaluate overall revenues, including sales taxes, and the recent budget reductions.
“We have no plans right now to reduce the pay decreases,” he said. “That would be the first thing we would restore, if numbers start to come in better than our worst-case scenario.”
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