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Put out the welcome mat

It is interesting to compare recently reported sales tax and lodgers tax revenue collections. In a nutshell: sales tax revenues down — lodgers tax revenues up. What can we glean from the comparison?

Right off the bat, we can see, as did the Pagosa Springs Town Council, that decreasing sales tax revenues require belt tightening. The council did just that last week, following a plan in place for some time, further reducing expenditures by 5 percent. The county took it easy during the first quarter of the year; the revenue and expenditure picture during that quarter justified the restraint.

But, how can lodgers tax revenues go up while sales tax revenues continue to go down?

As of March, year-to-date sales tax receipts were down 7.64 percent from last year. Sales tax collections were down an average of 12.59 percent during February and March, and down an average of 11.86 percent since the first of the year. Yet, lodger’s tax receipts in the town of Pagosa Springs for March 2010 showed a 16.4-percent increase over the same month last year.

We doubt anyone can satisfactorily explain the situation. Perhaps there are more tourists visiting Pagosa Country, due to easy access and decent prices. Perhaps where a family once had money to splurge at a pricey destination, they now economize and seek the pleasures Pagosa offers.

But, are tourists spending less than they did three or four years ago and, thus, producing less in per capita sales tax revenue? Are locals spending less, in particular on nonessential goods than they were three or four years ago? Are there fewer locals than three or four years ago, the numbers dwindling due to job pressures, etc.?

Speculation aside, one thing is immediately clear: With increasing lodgers tax numbers, we are reminded that we need to tend to our primary industry as the summer season begins.

No doubt about it, tourism is the pillar on which the current economy rests. With real estate and building industries down from previous highs, and little productive industry taking place in the county, tourism is the key to survival in lean times.

The season begins with a bang the next two weeks with a strong June and early July to follow.

The San Juan River Rod Run primed the pump and this weekend’s Pagosa Fiber Festival will bring visitors and economic activity to the area. The event is in its 10th year and draws visitors interested in fiber producing animals and the fiber arts for a variety of demonstrations, workshops and a Navajo rug auction. Most of the action takes place Saturday and Sunday at Town Park and the community center.

Next weekend, music lovers flock to town for the Pagosa Folk ’N Bluegrass Festival. A free concert takes place Friday and the festival continues on Reservoir Hill Saturday and Sunday.

Two major bike tours come to town in June.

Meanwhile, summer residents return to roost, timeshare owners arrive on a weekly basis, vacationers book into local lodging establishments, RV parks and campgrounds. These people shop at local retail establishments, they eat at local restaurants, they patronize all manner of local businesses.

It is our industry, and all of us — business owners, employees and residents — have a stake in how well it functions. We need to provide our visitors with the best service and products possible, and the best behavior possible — an abundance of courtesy and appreciation on the part of all of us. Yes, crowds can be annoying; the occasional bad seed is irritating. But, overall, our visitors are wonderful people. We need to make our guests welcome so they leave with the best of memories of Pagosa Country and a desire to return.

And soon, maybe more than lodgers tax numbers will improve.

Karl Isberg