Fraser’s first quarter shows economy still slumping | SkyHiNews.com

Fraser’s first quarter shows economy still slumping

Reid Armstrong
Sky-Hi News/ Grand County, Colo.

FRASER – The word on the street in the Fraser Valley is that people are out of work and are leaving the area for good in search of better opportunities.

It’s a difficult theory to pin down, however.

Mountain Parks Electric’s customer numbers actually increased between March 2009 and March 2010. Enrollment at Fraser Elementary School held steady this year from prior years. Water usage in the Town of Fraser has actually increased (primarily due to the addition of the recreation center).

While The Town of Winter Park just marked one of its best quarters on record for sales tax returns, Fraser, which has long been the bedroom community for Winter Park, saw its sales tax collections drop by 9 percent in the first quarter of 2010.

In a town where one grocery store makes up the majority of sales tax collections, a drop in receipts may be the best indicator of what’s happening with the local population.

Fraser finance director Nat Havens said he’ll have a clearer picture of whether an exodus of permanent residents is actually occurring when he sees May’s sales tax returns. May – smack in the middle of mud season – has traditionally been the town’s worst month for returns. Since the revenue number is composed almost entirely of grocery sales, it’s also one of the truest indicators of Fraser’s and Winter Park’s year-round population, without the influence of tourism and seasonal residents.

“My hypothesis is that we’ve lost so many permanent residents from this end of the valley that we won’t have enough sales in groceries (in May) to get back to where we were,” Havens said.

Fraser’s sales tax returns have been on a roller coaster ride over the last decade. They took a big hit when City Market opened in Granby. Returns dropped from $91,263 in May 2004 to $76,703 in May 2005. But, by the following year, the numbers were on the rise again, jumping to $93,053 in May 2006; $94,516 in May 2007; and, $99,539 in May 2008. Last year, May’s sales tax collections dropped to $88,594.

Even with the 9 percent hit so far this year, Havens said he’ll be comfortable with the budget as long as the returns remain in the 10 percent range.

Several new tax-generating businesses have opened in the past year, including Winter Park Market, a new vitamin shop and a glass products shop, Havens said. Several businesses also have left, including Three Sisters and Curves, but most of the outgoing businesses were service oriented and won’t have a big impact on sales tax collection, Havens said.

Retail sales have been the hardest hit in Fraser this year, Havens added. Other than Safeway, major retail players include Ace Hardware and Alco.

January was the worst month of the quarter – more than 10 percent down from January 2009. (Unlike Winter Park, Fraser provides an adjusted number that moves receipts to the month they were collected by the business rather than the month in which they were paid to the town.) February and March were both down about 9 percent from the previous year.

May, it seems, will be a revealing month for the state of the economy in the Fraser Valley. Word continues to circulate that some longtime business owners are looking for work elsewhere. Administrative staff at the elementary school is anticipating losing some students this summer. People are struggling more and more to pay their utility bills. Some businesses may not reopen after mud season this year.

The upshot – if there is one – is that Fraser’s sales tax numbers for the first quarter of 2010 are still better than 2005, and are stronger than they ever were before the boom.

The economy in the Fraser Valley has shrunk compared with the 2007 peak. The question is when and where will it level out.

– Reid Armstrong can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19610 or rarmstrong@skyhidailynews.com.


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