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Basalt cautiously optimistic about sales tax collections
Transparency a priority now and moving forward
Basalt chamber
Photo by Carolina Joyce Missy Morgan Hagen and Kris Mattera of the Basalt Chamber of Commerce.

The Basalt Chamber’s new initiatives are focused on building business and tourism, among other goals. But will one result be an increase in sales, and sales tax collections, for the town?

Through the first five months of 2019, sales tax collections were up 3.9 percent compared to that same time period in 2018, according to the town’s finance director, Christy Hamrick. She will be providing updated information from the first part of summer during the Aug. 13 meeting of the Basalt Town Council.

So far there’s reason for cautious optimism for summer, which is an important time for Basalt.

“In a preliminary review of June, which I haven’t quite finished, June looks good,” Hamrick said this week. “From the town’s perspective, we’re right on where we thought we would be for budget.”

For 2019, total revenue estimated for the town’s general fund is around $10 million, she said. Last year, due to a bump in building fees collected, actual revenue was $11.4 million. But an apples-to-apples comparison is not apropos, Hamrick said, because restricted and unrestricted funds were lumped together. 

An example of a restricted fund is Parks, Open Space and Trails, which accounts for about one-third of the total tax collections. “To say we have $10 million to use for whatever we want is not true,” she said, pointing out that $3 million is delegated just for parks.

In the future, the monies – and their restrictions – will be presented to the public in a different form.

“I’m really excited with the 2020 budget process” which Hamrick said will provide more specificity than in the past.

It will also separate the restricted funds which were so designated through public votes. Other examples of restricted funds are those derived from the cigarette tax, the lodging tax and permit fees from development agreements. This change has come at the behest of town auditor McMahon and Associates.

According to the town’s most recent report, total tax collection (which now includes online sales) through May 2019 was $2.43 million. Through May 2018, that figure was $2.33 million. For all of 2018, total taxable sales were $6.086 million. By comparison, in 2015, total taxable sales for Basalt were $5.455 million; in 2010, the annual sales tax figures stood at $3.71 million, according to information from the finance department.

Hamrick said, “People want to know what we have for operations. We can improve on that and make reporting simple for people to understand.”

Asked if the reporting change was prompted by the TABOR overcharge, which will result in rebates for local homeowners and business owners, the finance director said not exactly. Hamrick, who started in her position during 2018, discovered that a higher mill levy rate was being charged than allowed by the Colorado Taxpayers Bill of Rights. Following multiple council meetings and an executive session, elected officials decided to offer refunds based upon four years of overcollections. Those monies could be doled out this fall.

“I know people are more interested in our budget and are trying to educate themselves. We’ll continue to work with people so they understand our exact financial picture,” Hamrick said.

Hamrick later added that towns in Colorado typically have what she called “a healthy mix of both sales and property tax, as well as other revenue sources. Basing a town’s budget solely on sales tax is not responsible fiscal management, since an economic downturn usually results in sales tax quickly taking a hit.” Additionally, the 2019 general fund budget is break-even, meaning that the town anticipates it will bring in enough revenue to cover operations with no excess in unrestricted funds.