Mountain News: Aspen economy still slowing 

ASPEN, Colo. - The conventional wisdom has been that the most affluent high-end resorts are the last to enter a recession and the first to emerge. If so, this one has a ways to go.

The Aspen Times reports of continued declines in sales tax collections and further layoffs among local governments up and down the Roaring Fork Valley.

Aspen has laid off six employees, all of them with jobs relating to the dormant development and real estate sectors. These layoffs come after the city shaved $25 million from the municipal budget in early February. Further budget cuts are expected yet in March.

Pitkin County, where Aspen is located, is also finding a more severe economic decline than was expected. Sales tax revenues had been projected to drop 3 per cent overall in 2009, with a far sharper decline in fees collected from developers. Instead, the January sales tax revenues were down 14 per cent. No cuts are expected - for now - as the county has a good cushion in surplus funds.

Snowmass Village also discovered a 17 per cent decline in revenues in January. This follows a 10 per cent decline in December.

Services are being cut here and there. The valley-wide bus system, called Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, is looking to reduce service in early morning hours and after 9 at night once ski season is over. Ironically, it has money to push forward with a capital-intensive project called bus rapid transit, or BRT. The project was approved by voters, who committed to a sales tax increase and authorized the issuance of $45 million in bonds.

Meanwhile, in Carbondale, an opening for a building inspector that pays $45,000 to $48,000 a year drew 85 applicants. Ironically, the town has issued not even one permit this year for a new housing start, compared to 17 last year at the same time. There have been but a few handfuls of permits for remodels.

Jobs evaporating

JACKSON, Wyo. - Although the situation surely can't be as grim as in Cleveland, for example, layoffs are mounting in Jackson and the surrounding area, Jackson Hole.

Total numbers were unavailable, but the Jackson Hole News & Guide found anecdotal evidence. The Center for the Arts, a community non-profit, laid off four people, a quarter of its work force. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort has not laid off anyone, but year-round employees will be given mandatory one-week unpaid vacations.

The newspaper itself noted that it has become thinner, but there have been no layoffs. Kevin Olson, the paper's associate publisher, said that the newspaper and its sister publication, the Jackson Hole Daily, do not have the large overheads common at metro papers. "The community newspaper market is alive and well and healthy (across the country)," Olson said. "We're in that market."


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