Park City posted dazzling sales-tax numbers in September, capping strong stretch
The figures bested City Hall projections
City Hall collected nearly $1 million in sales taxes in September, a dazzling figure that beat estimates by a wide margin and topped the number from the same month last year, providing a data point that illustrates just how busy Park City was in the early fall.
The municipal government released the figure in the days before a Park City Council meeting that was held on Thursday and included a detailed look at City Hall’s finances nine months after the spread of the novel coronavirus forced an early end to the 2019-2020 ski season and upended the national economy.
According to City Hall, $991,498 in sales taxes went into the municipal General Fund in September. The total topped an October forecast by just more than $400,000. It also beat the dollar figure collected in September of 2019, when $912,173 was brought in. The September number also rose sharply from the figures in July and August, when the collections were in the range of $770,000.
The extraordinary September capped a solid three months for the Park City economy after the July and August numbers also topped the October forecast. Park City appeared especially busy during those months as visitors arrived in large numbers after the spring shutdowns. Main Street was jammed at many points, the trail system drew people seeking outside recreation options and traffic began to pick up.
Sales taxes are an important gauge for the overall economy since they are charged on a wide range of transactions. They are generally seen as less stable than other City Hall revenue streams like property taxes, though, since they rise and fall on the economic conditions of the moment.
The September crowds appeared to be a mix of people from the Wasatch Front and other places within driving distance. Park City has long benefited from the proximity to the population centers along the Wasatch Front, drawing day-tripping visitors from the Salt Lake Valley and elsewhere. The summertime crowds also usually include people staying for longer periods as they escape the heat in places like Arizona. There was also widespread talk of numerous people who own vacation homes in Park City settling in for the summer.
There had been reports starting in July that business was ticking up even before the community seemed to become especially busy later. Main Street drew large crowds even after a series of event cancellations like the Park Silly Sunday Market, the Tour of Utah bicycling race and the Park City Kimball Arts Festival. The Sunday pedestrian days on the shopping, dining and entertainment strip, meanwhile, proved to be popular. The Historic Park City Alliance, a group that represents businesses in the Main Street core, in mid-September indicated sales had been better than anticipated.
Mayor Andy Beerman and the City Council on Thursday held a brief discussion about the sales-tax numbers and it appears broader talks could be held later. Tim Henney, a city councilor, said officials have held an assumption that events are a “major driver” of the economic numbers, highlighting that the September sales-tax figures rose in the absence of events. Another city councilor, Becca Gerber, said visitors are not deciding to travel to Park City exclusively to attend events. She described Park City as a desirable place even without the events. City Councilor Max Doilney, though, cautioned 2020 might not have been a proper benchmark since borders were closed as a result of the spread of the sickness.
There remains concern about the overall health of the Park City economy even after the strong numbers. The core months of the ski season — from December until March — are significantly more important than the summer and fall. Ski-season economic numbers are expected to drop sharply from a typical winter, with many travelers remaining uneasy. The Sundance Film Festival is usually an especially lucrative stretch of the winter, but the event will be greatly scaled back with little activity expected in Park City.
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