Tourism pushes towns’ per-capita spending skyward |

Tourism pushes towns’ per-capita spending skyward

Jane Reuter

SUMMIT COUNTY – Summit County spends far more per capita each year than do many Colorado towns, including Denver. But experts say that’s an anomaly springing from tourism.

While Denver spends about $1,500 a year on its residents for city services, Breckenridge lays out a whopping $5,600. And while Breckenridge’s spending is the greatest in the county, all of Summit’s towns expend more per capita than does the Mile High City.

“These numbers don’t tell the whole story,” said Jim Carpenter, an associate with Denver-based BBC research and consulting. “Service levels are driven by a number of things, including revenues and economies of scale. But the other piece that really matters is that not all those municipalities deliver the same types of services. In Summit County, the peak period populations of those areas really varies. So where Breckenridge shows $5,600 per capita, that’s really high. But Breckenridge has a much higher peak period population than Silverthorne or Dillon in terms of people coming in for the ski season.”

Breckenridge Town Manager Tim Gagen agreed. The town, he said, can sleep 25,000 people at one time, and has to be ready for that type of demand.

It’s also heavy on recreational amenities, “like the recreation center, ice rink, golf course, that we operate year round that add to that overall cost. Things that are amenities not only to the community, but to the guest,” Gagen said. “We also generate more revenue to cover those costs.

“Certainly, second-home owners contribute to that also.When you have a fairly insignificant permanent resident population, our numbers are going to look extraordinarily high. It’s a tough apples-to-apples comparison.”

Dillon’s treasurer, Carrie McDonnell, said the percentage of second homes dramatically skews those figures.

“Dillon has a 70 percent second-home ownership,” she said, “so we provide service – water, roads, sewer – to homeowners that aren’t included in that per capita number. We have 802 fulltime residents. But in high season, there can be 4,000 to 5,000 people in town.”

Denver, Carpenter pointed out, simply has more money from which to draw.

“Their budget last year was $800-plus million dollars,” he said. “Their parks department is hundreds of people. For them to add an acre of parkland is pretty easy to do.

“A lot of this is driven by how much revenue you collect. Resort towns seem to generate a fair amount of revenue, primarily through sales tax, but they all deliver slightly different packages of services.”

Silverthorne spends about $2,000 per resident per year, but finance director Donna Braun said it’s essentially a “small town providing medium-sized town services.”

“The population is a little over 3,000 people, even though we have anywhere from 20,000 to 30,000 people driving through here on a daily basis,” she said. “We have a higher second-home owner ratio (than Denver). We require more money to serve tourists. We also provide a rec center that’s subsidized. You don’t find very many communities of 3,000 people that have a rec center like we have. We also have more snow than Denver does.”

Carpenter presented his research to the Silverthorne Town Council at a Tuesday work session.

“Council asked us to look deeper into some things finance-wise,” Braun said. “One was to look into forecasting and fiscal analysis. We’re so darn dependent on sales tax. It’s a very nervous income, very subjective to the economy, the environment, so they’re always concerned we’re doing what we can do to make sure we’re forecasting.

“Right now, expenditures are growing faster than revenues, though that’s happening statewide, probably even nationally.”

Jane Reuter can be reached at 668-3998, ext. 229, or by e-mail at

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