Leader Blues

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

TOP STORY >> Small gains in sales tax collections

By RICK KRON and JOAN McCOY
Leader staff writers

Tax collections for the first two months of the year are up in Cabot, Beebe and Lonoke, but slightly down in Jacksonville.

County and city sales taxes are down by about 4.5 percent, according to Jacksonville Finance Director Paul Mushrush. However, the January prepared food and hotel room tax collections were strong. Those funds go to the Jacksonville Advertising and Promotion Commission.

Even with those solid numbers, the commission is nervous about the overall economy and has sliced its 2009 budget by five percent.

“We want to ensure that we don’t run out of money,” explained commission chairman Mike Houchen.

Tammy Yocom, deputy city treasurer in Cabot, said the city’s 1 percent sales tax for fire and police brought in $267,832 in January 2008 compared to $293,279 in January 2009. In February 2008, the city collected $328,529 compared to $347,118 in February 2009.

Cabot also collects a portion of the countywide 1 percent sales tax, which was $130,106 in January 2008 but jumped to $150,709. In February 2008, it was $139,318, and last February, it increased to $165,715.

The city also has a 1 percent tax that is dedicated to paying off bonds which was not included in the collection numbers.

Collections are also up for Cabot’s 1.5 percent hamburger tax, said Vicky Burt, senior deputy city clerk. In January 2008, the tax brought in $56,086 compared to $47,825 in January 2009. In February 2008, $40,610 was collected compared to $50,010 in February 2009.

However, Burt said she doesn’t know what caused the big jump in the February collections. It is possible, she said, that some businesses were behind in their payments and caught up in February, which made the numbers appear inflated.

BEEBE, LONOKE

In Beebe, City Clerk-Treasurer Carol Crump Westergren said sales tax went up in July 2008 from about $68,000 to $69,000 a month to between $72,000 and $75,000 a month and has not gone back down.

“We’re not losing, so that’s good,” Crump-Westergren said.

Records in the Lonoke mayor’s office show collections increased more than $10,000 a month over last year. In January 2008, the 2 percent sales tax brought in $86,007. In January 2009, $96,479 was collected.

In February 2008, $97,950 was collected. The February 2009 collection was $118,914.

SHERWOOD UP

In Sherwood, the county, city and the advertising and promotion tax collections are up, but City Clerk Angela Nicholson said there was no Walmart Supercenter in the early part of 2008 and Gravel Ridge didn’t become part of Sherwood until April. Both of those are in the 2009 tax figures, making the year appear stronger than what it actually is.

For Sherwood, the city tax collection for January 2009 came in at $364,260 compared to $314,200 a year earlier. The February collections totaled $442,400 this year and $391,400 for 2008.

County sales tax for Sherwood for January 2009 came in at $363,800 and the February levy was $452,900.

In 2008, the county tax collection for January was $364,500 and $447,000 in February.

Overall, the city is running about $100,000 higher this year, but the 2009 figures include sales from the Walmart Supercenter and from all the Gravel Ridge businesses, neither were part of Sherwood in January and February 2008.

JACKSONVILLE

In Jacksonville, city tax collections in January were $584,759, compared to $576,885 in January 2008, and February 2009 brought in $662,845, while February intake in 2008 was $693,490. Overall, this was a drop of about $23,000.

The county sales tax for Jacksonville in January was $506,014 and slightly higher in January 2008 at $506,942. In February 2009, the county sales tax collection was $629, 957, slightly above February 2008, which came in at $621,732.

Mushrush said the city sales tax run about two months behind, meaning what the city received in February was collected in December. “So our February check is our Christmas sales and usually the largest check of the year,” Mushrush said.

According to the report given Monday night by Cheryl Erkel of the Jacksonville Finance Department, the city’s two-cent hotel room tax, which goes to the city’s advertising and promotion commission, came in at $6,146 in January, making it the second-best January in the six-year history of the tax.

The city’s two-cent prepared food tax has been collected for just slightly more than two years, but January’s collections of $59,605 was the best January to date.

But those rosy figures were not enough as the commission downsized its budget by 5 percent, leaving it with just $30,000 in uncommitted funds for the year.

Sherwood also has a two-cent prepared food tax, and its January and February figures for this year are higher than in 2008, but again there are more businesses such as Walmart and restaurants in Gravel Ridge paying the tax now than last year.

In January of this year, the tax garnered $51,887, compared to $41, 334. February collections for this year stand at $60,174, and last February it was $41,393.

Officials in Sherwood and Jacksonville agree that the economic problems apparently haven’t dampened the urge or desire to eat out.