Letter to the Editor: Survey well received

First and foremost, I would like to say thank you to everyone who participated in the sales tax leakage survey as well as those individuals and local businesses that helped to make this project possible. Thank you, to everyone who filled out a survey, your honesty and wonderful feedback was most appreciated and extremely helpful in providing direction with regards to specific areas to focus future planning. I would like to thank and recognize the Town of Meeker, the Meeker Chamber of Commerce and Rio Blanco County for making this project happen. I would also like to thank the businesses who participated as drop-off and pick-up locations: the Rio Blanco Herald Times, the Town of Meeker, the Meeker Chamber of Commerce, the Meeker Post Office, White River Electric Association, Watt’s Ranch Market, Wendll’s Wondrous Things, Avis Village Floral, the Meeker Hotel and Café. Ma Famiglia, McGuire Auto Parts City and Meeker Drugs. I would also like to thank Wendy Gutierrez, Michelle Morgan, Katelin Cook, Kai Turner, Brittany Turner and Kari Bollich for attending the defense of my thesis May 5, 2012. If I forgot anyone, I apologize, but truly appreciate your support and generosity.
I love Meeker and the residents and businesses that live and operate here. I was born and raised here but left to attend college in 2004. The people of Meeker have supported me my entire academic career and it is you to whom I am eternally indebted. As an MBA student attending Colorado Mesa University, I was afforded the opportunity to aid the Town of Meeker, the Meeker Chamber of Commerce and Rio Blanco County in their economic development efforts. In August 2011, I contacted Meeker Town Administrator Sharon Day to discuss ways which I could aid the community of Meeker and simultaneously meet MBA research requirements for my thesis. She led me to Katelin Cook, executive director of the Meeker Chamber of Commerce, and with the aid of the board of directors we were able to devise a plan to better understand the economic situation in Meeker. After thorough exploratory research and data mining, I was able to create a sales tax leakage survey which was issued to the residents of Meeker regarding residents’ consumer spending habits. Everyone was so helpful and generous with their time and I was able to not only meet my MBA requirements but rather to exceed them and boost the confidence level and integrity of the research to a margin of error of less than 5 percent.
This in turn made the data extremely reliable and a better source for administrators to base future economic development. The project is now complete and the Town of Meeker, the Meeker Chamber of Commerce and Rio Blanco County have copies of the analysis and results to hopefully aid them in their economic development pursuits. The overall project is approximately 250 pages and an electronic version of the project can be obtained via the Meeker Chamber of Commerce. I will be presenting the project at 6:30 p.m. May 30 at Kilowatt Korner at Sixth and Market. The public is welcome and encouraged to attend. For those of you who may be interested in learning about the current economic situation in Meeker, and my research analysis and recommendations, I look forward to seeing you there and answering any questions or concerns you may have.
For those of you who will be unable to attend, I have provided a brief summary of my project. I found that Meeker does indeed have a major sales tax and retail leakage problem: 58.7 percent of Meeker residents purchase products and services outside of Meeker on a frequent basis, in comparison to 1 percent who never purchase products and services outside of Meeker; 53.7 percent of Meeker residents travel outside of Meeker specifically for shopping, which is the most common reason to travel outside of Meeker. Nearly 95 percent of Meeker residents purchase products and services electronically or through mail. The average Meeker household consumer purchases nearly $5,000 outside of Meeker in a three-month period. The largest sales tax leakage occurs as a result of automobile/vehicle purchases and expenses, followed closely by groceries, household items, fuel and motor oil, and clothing and apparel.
Comparing Meeker consumer expenditures to U.S. consumer expenditure data shows that 82 percent of the (married household) budget is spent outside of Meeker, and 88 percent of the (single/divorced) household budget is spent outside of Meeker. This equates to a revenue loss (specifically from local residents shopping outside of Meeker) of nearly $20 million per year. This equates to a sales tax leakage of more than $1 million which could be used for infrastructure and capital improvement projects in Meeker. Using sales tax figures from the past 10 years on average, Meeker captures only $240,798 from local residents, the rest is captured from other businesses, governmental spending or tourism. Presently Meeker is capable of capturing nearly $2 million in sales tax. Comparatively, Meeker experiences an actual sales tax of approximately $800,000-$900,000 per year.
It is my recommendation that the Town of Meeker, Rio Blanco County and the Meeker Chamber of Commerce come together to devise an economic development plan specifically aimed at reducing sales tax leakage. It should focus upon products and services with the largest negative economic footprint in Meeker such as automobile/vehicle purchases, groceries, household items, clothing and apparel, and fuel and motor oil. Businesses have the responsibility to effectively meet local consumer demands. Businesses should look first internally to better identify inefficiencies harming their overall success. When external or environmental threats make it impossible to change internally, businesses must band together and lobby for changes to harmful regulations and promote critical business infrastructure to meet threats head-on. It is also recommended that local governments reconsider harmful regulations and restrictions which dissuade businesses from locating in Meeker or operating within a profitable margin. These include excessive operation and startup fees, transportation and highway access restrictions, limitations and excessive fees based on non-rational environmental impacts and many more. These restrictions force potential businesses to choose alternative sites and more business proactive communities to setup shop. It is also recommended that Meeker consider how they approach potential and current local businesses. Public relations are paramount when trying to market Meeker’s excellent resources and capabilities. They should be handled professionally and in an open and friendly manner. Reconsider the effect posting/signage has on the overall image of Meeker and make it appear Meeker is open to economic development and new businesses, not restrictive. It should be the goal to actively promote Meeker and search out businesses currently lacking representation or competition in Meeker. It is also recommended that an economic development plan consider long-term infrastructure to promote future business development. Another consideration would be to reassess the rationality of taxing unprepared food such as groceries. Currently Rio Blanco County places a 3.6 percent sales tax on unprepared food items, whereas many other communities choose not to. There are negative drawbacks associated with increasing the overall cost of purchasing groceries locally which forces businesses interested in setting up a competitive store to move elsewhere.
Again, I would like to thank those of you who have participated in and made this project possible. I have learned a great deal throughout the execution of this study and hope that it will prove a useful and viable resource for future economic development. I would also like to reiterate that this project will be presented at 6:30 p.m., May 30, at Kilowatt Korner, and that it is open to anyone and everyone interested. I hope to see you there.
Kathryn Stewart