Merchants suffer through March |

Merchants suffer through March

City sales-tax figures plummet 3.5 percent from last year

— Premonitions of a tough March for local businesses proved all too true this year, with the city taking in 3.5 percent less in sales-tax receipts as compared to last March.

The city received $1,807,584 from March sales, which amounted to $64,607 less than last year.

Taking into account the artificially high cost of utilities this winter, the decrease may be even more dramatic than it appears at first glance.

Discounting the increase in dollars from utility companies, Steamboat would have been down more than 6 percent in March from March 2000.

The city had not shown a decrease in sales-tax revenue since April 2000, when it lost 2.7 percent as compared to the previous April.

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During a month many hotels hope they won’t be repeating anytime soon, the lodging community alone contributed 12.1 percent less in sales tax than it did in March 2000.

With all of the new hotels, motels and other short-term rentals meaning increased “pillows” as compared to last March, the yield per lodging entity was especially low.

The city’s sales tax-based general fund did take something of a hit, but the outlook is not as bad as it may seem, said Finance Director Don Taylor.

The city is still up 3.9 percent year-to-date, which puts it on schedule as far as the finance department’s predictions for the budget.

On top of that, last March’s sales tax proved to be especially high, coming in more than 12 percent over March 1999.

“It’s probably unrealistic that we would be up again over that number,” Taylor said.

Nonetheless, City Council President Pro Tem Kathy Connell, who is also in the property-management industry, said the city cannot downplay the severity of the decrease.

“This lack of visitors is a lot more serious than 12.1 percent indicates,” Connell said.

The lodging industry being down was bad enough, but the fact that other industries did not make up for the decrease could be a very bad sign, Connell said.

March is traditionally the biggest sales tax month for the city, in part because of the strength of the Steamboat ski season during the spring.

News of a slowdown in tourist traffic to the mountain this season has already been acknowledged by the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp, with skier days off more than 10 percent from three years ago.

However, as much as it was a slow snow season, those on the front lines of the lodging industry aren’t all blaming the powder.

Scott Campbell, the sales director for Steamboat Resorts, said he made sure his sales agents got the word out that the snow was still good this year.

He said good fortune on the East Coast, however, has been bad news for West Coast resorts that rely on Easterners to fill their beds.

“It was tough to get them to come out West when they’re getting as much snow as they were,” Campbell said.

Campbell also said a reduction in airplane seats for tourists probably had a large negative influence on his company’s business.

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