Grand Junction sales tax collections up, but lodging tax revenues down

If rising sales and use tax collections in Grand Junction are an indication, a slow but steady economic recovery has legs.

For a 10th consecutive month, the City of Grand Junction reported a year-over-year increase in sales and use tax collections. According to the March report, tax collections totalled $3.64 million, 11.2 percent higher than collections reported the same month last year.

Lodging tax collections headed in the opposite direction in March, however, with total collections of $58,666, 3.7 percent lower than March 2010.

March numbers reflect February spending since collections lag a month behind purchases and accomodations.

For the first quarter of 2011, city sales and use tax collections totalled $12.06 million, 11.9 percent more than during the first quarter of last year.

First quarter lodging tax collections totalled $174,902, 3 percent lower than collections during the same span last year.

The downward trend in lodging activity is surprising in light of the optimism expressed by the Grand Junction Visitor & Convention Bureau.

When collections in January topped those of a year ago, VCB officials predicted an increase in tourism business. The tourism industry worldwide touted the same kind of optimism, anticipating that people would begin to spend more on travel as the economy improved.

Even with gasoline prices rising across the United States, VCB director Debbie Kovalik suggested in April that higher prices could prompt more Colorado residents to stay close to home and visit the Grand Valley instead of traveling afar.

It’s still too early to make much of the tourism numbers — the busiest part of the season doesn’t arrive until June. But first quarter visits to the Grand Junction visitor center on Horizon Drive revealed an unexpected early trend: the number of Colorado residents registering at the center dropped 5.4 percent compared to the first quarter of last year. The number of visitors from other states and other countries increased during the first quarter — by 8 percent and 12.3 percent, respectively.

Meanwhile, Mesa County reported sales tax collections of $13.72 million for the first quarter of 2011, a nearly 5 percent increase over the first quarter of 2010. March was the seventh consecutive month in which Mesa County reported year-over-year increases in sales tax collections, with collections 9 percent higher than for March 2010.