Ski-season spending sank in Park City | ParkRecord.com

Ski-season spending sank in Park City

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

Sales taxes collected inside Park City during the crucial months of the last ski season fell by 22.5 percent from the year before, City Hall reported on Thursday night, a breathtaking drop in business in a place that depends heavily on wintertime business.

The year-over-year receipts have fallen each month since at least July 2008, the start of City Hall’s fiscal year, and the drop was especially bad during the winter.

February and March suffered the worst against the year before, with the numbers dropping 33.4 percent in March and 28.4 percent in February. The January numbers were down 18.8 percent. December’s figures were off 5.5 percent.

Officials received the March numbers from state tax collectors early in the week, and Mayor Dana Williams and the Park City Council, poring through the municipal finances as they prepare to finalize City Hall’s budget, were briefed on Thursday. Bret Howser, City Hall’s budget officer, said the figures are generally in line with what had been anticipated.

"We’re seeing the realization of what we’ve been expecting since the fall," he said in an interview.

Last year, as the recession gripped the U.S., city officials started their financial talks. They began a few months earlier than is typical and focused on measures that could be taken if revenues were lower than forecasted.

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Sales taxes are an important revenue stream for City Hall, with 16 percent of the money the city expects to take in during the next fiscal year projected to be from sales taxes. But sales taxes are much more volatile than other categories of municipal revenue like property taxes.

Meanwhile, the livelihoods of many people who live or work in Park City are tied to the ski season. Lodges, shops and restaurants are at their busiest then, and prices at lots of places climb during the ski season. The money they make between December and March usually tides them over through the slower months of the year.

As the ski season unfolded, there had been mounting anecdotal evidence that business was off substantially. Business surrounding the Sundance Film Festival, a usually lucrative stretch of the season, was slow, many people said, and there was frequent grumbling about business being down at other times during the ski season.

In an interview after being presented with the latest numbers, the mayor said he expected the steep drop. He predicted, though, the year-over-year receipts will not drop further in coming months.

Williams said he hopes summertime tourism will be solid, with the annual Triple Crown Sports softball tournament and other events boosting the numbers. But he also acknowledged that some restaurants have extended their traditional spring shutdowns.

"I think everybody is trying to be exceedingly lean," Williams said. "I don’t think people are staffing up as much."