Aspenites Feel Shortchanged By Food Sales Tax Refund

Feb 5, 2019

Aspen introduced the Food Sales Tax Refund in 1970, and while the amount reimbursed has increased, many feel it doesn’t go far enough.


Aspen Resident Mike Maple says it does not fairly reimburse what is actually spent on groceries.

"It’s a food tax refund. It’s not a partial-food tax refund, it’s not a 50 percent-food tax refund. It’s a food tax refund," said Maple, "To me, that means the sales tax paid on food should be refunded."

The initial idea was to collect sales tax from visitors, which account for the majority of food purchases and then refund residents to offset their sales-tax spending.

An increase to the tax was passed in 1972 which tripled the refund amount.

The refund had been stagnant since 1990. The amount was raised from $50 to $55 last year, a change spurred by council members Ann Mullins and Byrt Myrin.

The city calculates the original refund of $7, adjusted for inflation would only be $42 in 2019.

The city uses the Consumer Price Index to make that calculation. Ben Sachdeva from the Finance Department acknowledges the valley is a bit of an outlier.

"Inflation in the valley doesn’t always correspond to inflation nationally," said Sachdeva.

Aspen Finance Director Pete Strecker says administering the refund is difficult and time-consuming. At last estimate, the city distributes over $170,000 in food tax refunds, parsing through over 4,000 applications.

The current rate shows that the city estimates the average resident spends about $200 a month on groceries.

Maple, for his part, says his monthly grocery spending is more than double those estimates.

"The city of Aspen is not doing a credible example or administration of issuing a food tax refund," he said.

Changing the refund amount would require an ordinance, put forth either by citizens or city council.