2021 sales tax reports show spending in Summit County has returned to pre-pandemic levels

All of the towns and the county showed increases in collections compared to 2019 and 2020

Crowds walk down Main Street in Breckenridge on Presidents Day weekend in February. In 2021, all four towns plus Summit County showed an increase in sales tax collections compared to 2019 and 2020.
Tripp Fay/For the Summit Daily News

According to the sales tax reports of Summit County and all of its towns, it appears that spending has returned to — and even exceeded — pre-pandemic levels.

Though many businesses and organizations are still struggling to attract and retain staff members, the reports show that spending throughout 2021 was so strong that it greatly surpassed what it had been in 2020, during the pandemic, and even outperformed 2019 levels.

The town with the biggest swing compared to 2019 was Breckenridge. According to its December report, the town’s net taxable sales were ahead of 2019’s numbers by about 26% and about 35% ahead of 2020’s numbers.

One of the industries to have the biggest positive swing was the town’s short-term lodging. Compared to 2019, the town’s sales tax collections for the industry were up nearly 56% and up 52% compared to 2020.

In general, the town’s report stated that its sales tax collections were $7.2 million over what it had budgeted year to date.

The entity that had the second highest swing was Summit County government. The county’s 2021 sales tax collections were up about 23% compared to 2019 and up about 35% compared to 2020. Though the rising number of visitors passing through the county helps with collections, Summit County Finance Director Marty Ferris said she believes it’s the county’s short-term rental industry that is to be attributed for the large increase.

“Our biggest sales tax category that the county government gets is short-term rentals,” Ferris said. “We don’t have big grocery stores or Walmarts and Targets and that kind of stuff. Those are all located in the towns, and the towns get the sales tax from that. We basically have Keystone, Copper … and then the short-term rentals throughout the unincorporated part of the county.”

Sales tax collections make up roughly 11% of the county’s general fund budget. Ferris noted that with more visitors comes a higher demand on the county’s infrastructure and that the general fund helps pay for various services to keep up with the higher number of people in the county.

Town of Frisco Finance Director Leslie Edwards echoed that sentiment. The town’s sales tax collections were up nearly 18% compared to 2019 and up 14% compared to 2020. Because of that, the town now has extra spending money to dedicate to projects and services that were put on the back burner when the pandemic struck.

With this extra money, Edwards said the town is planning to purchased various vehicles and equipment, complete alley pavements, add some playground improvements to some of its parks and start on some trail construction. About 70% of the town’s general fund is made up of sales tax collections each year.

“It certainly is helpful that the tax level has been maintained because, otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to complete these projects that had been put on hold,” Edwards said. “Without continuing things like vehicle replacement and alley paving, we really wouldn’t be able to provide the services to the residents that they’re accustomed to.”

When planning for 2021, Edwards and other finance directors said their entities had budgeted conservatively, more so than other years. Many were unsure what kind of rebound their jurisdictions would make from the first year of the pandemic.

Like Frisco, Dillon also relies heavily on its sales tax collections to fulfill its general fund.

Dillon Town Manager Nathan Johnson noted that though these collections are promising, there are still issues in the county’s economy.

“If you look at pre-pandemic spending, I think it’s good for the economy, it’s good for local businesses, but more importantly, it puts people back to work,” Johnson. “Now I say that with a lot of jobs being open in the county, which is a good and a bad thing. It’s a good thing that people are being successful, but it’s a bad thing that they don’t have enough people to fulfill what they’re trying to do.”

According to its December report, the town of Dillon’s sales tax collections were up about 16% compared to 2020 and 2021. Comparing 2020 and 2019, the town saw less than a 1% increase in sales tax collections.

Another town to rely mostly on sales tax collections is Silverthorne. The town’s sales tax collections were up nearly 20% compared to 2020 and 22% compared to 2019.

Most finance directors and leaders agreed that though sales tax collections were strong in 2021, they still plan to budget conservatively for this year and that it didn’t impact their 2022 budgets much. Instead, they plan to update their forecasts for the next few years and hope that the county is on the same trajectory for the year ahead.

This graphic shows how much in sales taxes Summit County and each of its towns collected in the fourth quarter of 2021.
Jenna deJong/Summit Daily News

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