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Economic boom begets challenges



BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. — The economy continues to boom in Breckenridge and other towns in Summit County. But all that success has been producing problems.

August tax collections in Breckenridge increased 7.56 per cent, part of a steady progression since 2010. Brian Waldes, the town's finance director, said he projects that the town will collect US$19.1 million in sales taxes this year, up nearly 40 per cent since 2010, when the town collected $13.2 million.

In 2004, he added, the town collected $9.7 million and there has been little inflation since then to dilute the power of that growth.

Lodging only represents 28 per cent of economic activity in Breckenridge, but because of elevated tax rates, it represents 40 per cent of the sales tax collections.

The town of 4,200 permanent residents has a peak population of about 30,000 during a few nights each winter. Summer peaks are smaller, said Waldes.

Marijuana sales represent a small portion of the town's economic activity but have been a source of outsized growth, increasing 19 per cent through August this year as compared to last year. "We thought the thrill was gone, everybody's got enough. But then this year it just went through the roof," he told the Summit Daily News.

Nearby Frisco has also had a huge jump in tax collections from sales, as have most other municipalities in Summit County.

This boom does have its dark clouds, though. In Breckenridge and elsewhere, there are cries of exasperation and complaint. Main Street through Breckenridge has become even more steadily congested. Parking is a problem.

"That's where a lot of our increased tax revenue will be going, to meet the challenges that the increased revenues are creating in the first place," said Waldes this week as town officials prepared to convene to discuss budget priorities.

"We're trying to figure out those solutions as well as find places for lift operators and restaurant servers to live, too."

The Summit County Housing Needs Assessment in August found that rental vacancies were near zero, and rents have climbed by more than 10 per cent annually. Median rents now stand at $1,900 per month.

No new limits on short-term rentals

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — If the discussion is not necessarily over, Crested Butte appears ready to leave well enough alone as regards short-term rentals in residential zones.

Like most other places, the town has had a boom in vacation rentals over the Internet through such buyer-seller services as Airbnb. There have been complaints, too.

A task force appointed to examine the merits of a cap on new short-term rentals had concluded that limits should be imposed. "The unfettered licensing of short-term rentals at some point is detrimental to the community, housing availability, and the culture of Crested Butte," the committee reported.

But council members, reported the Crested Butte News, concluded otherwise.

"I don't think we will gain much, if anything, by putting limits on it. I think we would end up with more dark houses," said long-time Councilman Jim Schmidt.

"I also think people would cheat and find a way around it."

Bits of bear hair tell story of family tree

COLUMBIA FALLS, Mont. — Yes, there is such a thing as a "family tree" for grizzly bears in Glacier National Park and adjoining areas of Montana.

Two analysts from the U.S. Geological Survey examined genetic data from hair follicle samples gathered from 1,115 bears. The Hungry Horse News reported that the genetic evidence defines a family tree that, if printed out on one continuous sheet of paper, would be six metres long.

There had been concern that bears in the fringes of the ecosystem would lack genetic diversity. But the takeaway from this study, said Tabitha Graves, one of the two scientists, is that the fringe populations are showing greater genetic diversity over time.

The study also revealed that a fairly large number of females don't successfully reproduce.