Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Wagon Days cancellation hits sales

September sales tax collection down 15 percent

Express Staff Writer

Carol Waller

The numbers are in, but they're not as bad as some predicted.

Sales tax collections in Ketchum for the month of September reflect the economic fallout and aftermath of the Castle Rock Fire and the associated cancellation of Wagon Days. The month's total collections show that sales were 14.87 percent down from the same time period last year.

"I'm actually really surprised by September's numbers," said Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau Executive Director Carol Waller. "Of course we know businesses took a hit, but it's not as bad as everybody thought it would be for the whole month."

Waller said she predicted sales tax collections for the month would be down 30 percent. She said she heard predictions from others that were in the minus 50 percent range. Ketchum collects a 1 percent local option sales tax on retail items and 2 percent on hotel-motel rooms and liquor by-the-drink. The tax has been in place since 1978, and it exempts groceries, vehicle sales and medicine.

Waller said most of the hit probably resulted from the cancellation of Wagon Days over Labor Day weekend.

"If we had statistics for Labor Day weekend—there were an awful lot of cancellations, a lot fewer second homeowners here," she said. "And the two weeks immediately following were probably pretty slow."

However, the Castle Rock Fire was contained Sept. 4, and the chamber teamed up with local residents and municipalities to stage events and put some additional elbow grease into marketing.

The Kick Ash Bash was featured, along with a marketing campaign, "Fire Is Out, Fall Is In." Those efforts coincided with the traditional Trailing of the Sheep Festival and Swing 'n' Dixie Jazz Jamboree.

"That's not to say there still aren't businesses struggling because we all know there have been a lot of factors this past calendar year," Waller said. "But the good news is the fire certainly had an impact, but a short-term impact, not a long-term one."

But the fire, which began Thursday, Aug. 16, also certainly had an impact, and sales tax collections in August reflected that.

August collections were down roughly $24,000 from last year and came in at $207,920, a 10.52 percent drop. In fact, the figures represent the lowest August spending since 2002.

But considering the Castle Rock Fire essentially shut the town down the last two weeks of August, "that's not too bad," Waller said.

"Overall, August dipped, but it didn't dip double digits on the retail, lodging, liquor section," she said. "We certainly know business was off the last two weeks, but because the first two weeks were strong that's how that played out.

"And certainly, having seen the past month and a half what California has gone through, we can all be just that much more grateful."

The local option sales tax in Ketchum accounts for 25 percent of all city revenue. It funds public transit, land acquisition and police, fire, ambulance and street services.

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