February prosperous for Steamboat economy

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— Steamboat's property managers knew in advance the news from February would be good. But it was still nice to hear this week that city sales tax revenues from the lodging industry were up 7.6 percent over the same month a year ago.

The city's single point of accommodation tax was up, at 8.2 percent, even a little higher than straight sales tax on lodging.

"It's nice to hear that," Bob Milne said Tuesday. "We knew back in January that February and March were going to be strong, but I had not heard that number. That's good. I would expect that March will turn out to have been just as strong."

Milne is the owner and president of Steamboat Resorts, among Steamboat's largest property management companies.

The numbers for February were particularly welcome after an essentially flat January, during which sales tax revenue attributable to lodging grew by 1.81 percent. The problem in January wasn't that people did not come here, it was the discounted rates property managers offered to lure them.

"February and March can cure most of your problems from December and January," Milne said. "Occupancy wasn't the problem in January. We just didn't have the rate."

After the ski season got off to a slow start in terms of snowfall in December and fears nationally about Y2K conspired to keep people home, the Steamboat Ski Area and local property manages began aggressively advertising package deals. Milne said that meant most companies were either flat, or just one side or the other of flat for January.

Overall, the city of Steamboat's collection for February totaled $1.5 million, representing an increase of $127,428, or 9.3 percent, over the same period in 1999.

Shoppers in Steamboat pay 8.5 percent sales tax. Of the total, 4.5 is collected by the city, with .5 percent of that going to public schools in the city. There is an additional 1 percent of accommodation tax that is devoted to capital projects benefitting tourism. Lodging tax revenues are being used to retire the debt on the Haymaker golf course.

The sales tax growth in Steamboat in February compared favorably to other ski towns. Vail was up 6.41 percent, Aspen was up 7.4 percent and Breckenridge, according to preliminary figures, expects to be down about 3.2 percent.

"We were fortunate," Steamboat Chamber Resort Executive Director Dean Vogelaar said. "We got snow, we had a stronger airline program this winter and the ski area got the word out. It all came together."

Year to date, the city of Steamboat is comfortably ahead its budget. When sales tax receipts are compared to the budget, the city is $408,827 ahead of where it budgeted to be.

Sales tax collections for the year thus far total $4.387 million, compared to a budget of $3.978. Those figures include December 1999 tax receipts collected in January.

"It's very good, but $400,000 is still a small part of the annual budget," city Finance Director Karen Feeney said.

The city finished 1999 with $566,575 in sales tax revenues in addition to what was budgeted. After budgeting for $11.39 million in 1999, City Council budgeted for $11.74 in 2000. That's more than the previous year, but still less than actual collections in 1999, Feeney said.

The only sector of Steamboat's economy that reflected a decline in sales tax revenues in February was utilities. The building use taxes, roughly the equivalent of sales taxes on building materials covered by a building permit, also declined. They were down $23,972 or 53.8 percent in February. But Feeney cautioned that fluctuations are the norm for building use taxes. Throughout 1999, it wasn't uncommon to see the building use taxes up by several hundred percent. But there were also months of decline.

Despite the strong numbers for the lodging community, that sector didn't lead the local economy. Retail, restaurants, liquor stores and sporting goods all grew at a double digit clip, in terms of sales tax revenues.

Restaurants were up 12.72 percent after a 14.09 percent increase in January.

"We had a record winter, December, January, February and March," said Jeff Little of the Ore House at the Pine Grove, about his own establishment.


-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4210, or e-mail tomross@amigo.net

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