Breck budget off by $400,000 |

Breck budget off by $400,000

BRECKENRIDGE – Breckenridge Town Council members weren’t surprised when assistant finance director Lance Hillis told them March tax revenues were “not the prettiest.”

Overall revenue was down 7.6 percent year to date – and 15.1 percent when compared to March 2002. Hillis said the town’s budget is typically on track or ahead at this point in the year, but this year it’s off about $400,000.

“Who knows?” he said. “This summer, it’s possible we can make a lot of that up. I think everyone’s making a real push to make this a good summer. Obviously, only time will tell.”

The only bright spot in the monthly report was Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT) collections, which rebounded in April after months of decline. The town collects a 1 percent RETT on property sales; the money pays for capital improvements in town.

RETT revenue increased 14.6 percent in April when compared to April 2002 – primarily as a result of the sale of lots at the ski area’s Timber Ridge on Peak 8. Resort officials say those sales netted $100,000 in RETT for the town.

However, it’s not enough to boost RETT revenue to the level of last year’s numbers. The town has collected $868,671 in RETT through the end of this April, compared to $1.136 million in the same period last year.

“We have no expectations to meet last year’s (RETT revenue),” Hillis said. “That was a record year. We didn’t budget for that.”

Hillis said the United States’ war with Iraq, a precarious national economy and a late-March snowfall that closed Interstate 70 for three days likely are all to blame for soft late-season numbers.

“We had amazing snow, and people couldn’t get here,” he said. “People in Denver couldn’t get to work for three days, either, and if they can’t get to work for three days, they can’t go play, either.”

Retailers and restaurateurs weren’t surprised by the report.

“We noticed it,” said Will Rosenthal, owner of Swan Mountain Christmas. “It seemed slower in March than in previous years. But I think there are some positive signs (for summer). The war’s over, gas prices are going down. I think things will start turning around.”

John Daisy, owner of Fatty’s Pizzeria, said business was gearing up after St. Patrick’s Day when a major snowstorm moved through the area.

“That is one of our busier days in the winter, and the interstate closed, restaurants started running out of food, and people couldn’t get out of here,” he said. “It was the busiest booking of March, and we lost a lot of it.”

The U.S. also declared war on Iraq that week.

Jan McKim, owner of Skilled Hands Gallery, wasn’t shocked by the sales tax figures.

“It’s all across the board,” she said. “It’s the economy. People weren’t traveling like they used to, and when they do, they’re looking for a bargain; we’ve obviously been losing our destination-customer base for quite some time. Easter fell late; peoples’ dollars aren’t going as far; the war – we’ve had it all. The list goes on and on.”

McKim, who keeps tabs on the business community, said she hasn’t talked to anybody whose business was up from last year – and she even knows of some who are talking about closing if the economy doesn’t improve.

Yet she has high hopes for this summer.

“The town is doing a lot to bring customers into town S the war’s over,” she said. “If you’re still in business, you’re one of the survivors.”

That continued survival will depend on vibrant storefronts, customer service and most importantly, McKim said, enthusiasm and a positive attitude.

Daisy agreed: “This summer, because of what went on last summer with fires and forest closures, we could see a very good rebound,” he said. That is, he added, if summer ever arrives in Summit County.

Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or

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