September 21, 2017 11:07:34 AM
Sales tax collections for 2017 in Columbus are lower than last year, but city officials are still touting strong economic footing.
Columbus finished Fiscal Year 2017 with $9.82 million in sales tax revenue, which is down about $379,000 than Fiscal Year's 2016's record-setting $10.2 million. However, it is still the second-highest sales tax revenue total on record for the city.
Fiscal Year 2015 collections, which broke the city's record at the time, were roughly $9.3 million.
The city this month received $806,384 from the Mississippi Department of Revenue for July collections, up from $804,380 in the same month last year. Taxes run on a three-month process, where they are collected one month, sent to the Department of Revenue the next and then distributed to municipalities.
Most of the difference between 2016 and 2017 collections can be attributed to what the city received in April of both years. In 2016, April revenue soared to $1.15 million -- the highest month on record and well above the average revenue of $723,812 for the month from the previous five years.
April 2017's revenue fell to $809,954 -- still well above average, but short of April 2016's record-setting figure.
Mayor Robert Smith, in an issued statement, said he was pleased with the numbers and confident in the city's economic strength.
"Our numbers continue to be strong," Smith said. "Our new hotels, restaurants and retail locations are the reasons we see great local sales tax returns. We operate the city within a balanced budget and we know there will be variances month-to-month and year-to-year. Those numbers are taken into account, and we continue to spend within our budget and spend wisely."
Starkville's sales tax collections, while down for the month, have closed out the city's fiscal year as the highest on record.
The city closed Fiscal Year 2017 with $6.99 million in sales tax revenue, which is up about $115,000 from FY 2016's $6.87 million.
Starkville's monthly revenue is slightly down, however, from $565,751 received in September 2016 to $557,801 this month for July collections.
Mayor Lynn Spruill said she is pleased with the growth, though she said sales taxes can be a flexible source of revenue for cities.
Starkville has seen a continued trend of year-to-year sales tax growth since FY 2009, when it collected $5.11 million.
Spruill said she expects that trend to continue.
"I think we will see continued growth and I have expectations that we will continue to see that growth through the next few years," she said.
Greater Starkville Development Partnership CEO Scott Maynard said the city is a strong position economically.
"We've had increases in business growth and in population growth," he said. "The university has seen a consistent increase in enrollment. I think all of those things play into our favor and make our local economy stronger."
Spruill said a 2009 ordinance change that allowed businesses to sell beer on Sundays likely helped spur growth. Aldermen recently approved an ordinance change that allows businesses to sell alcohol within 100 feet of schools, churches and funeral homes; until 1 a.m. Thursday through Saturday and midnight on Sunday through Wednesday; and beer with up to 8-percent alcohol content. She said that ordinance change, along with the continued national success of Mississippi State University athletics and the growth of major events such as Bulldog Bash, should hopefully help drive even more sales tax collections to the city.
"With the vote (Tuesday) night, that gives property owners, especially on Main Street, the opportunity to market their properties for even more restaurants when those become available," Maynard said. "I think, as the mayor alluded to (Tuesday), that's going to help keep our downtown vibrant and growing."
West Point's fiscal year and year-to-date sales tax revenues are down from FY 2017. The city began its fiscal year in July.
West Point received $171,677 this month, which is less than the $195,849 it got last September. Year-to-date, the city has received a total of $506,003 in sales tax revenues, compared to $604,577 for the same point in FY 17.
However, Mayor Robbie Robinson said the situation is more complicated than a simple drop in revenue.
The Mississippi Department of Revenue is withholding $18,393 every month to make up for overcompensation in sales taxes distributed to the city. MDOR will withhold that amount every month through June 2019, Robinson said.
"We don't have a lot of details on that because they wouldn't share a lot with us," Robinson said. "They said we were overpaid a considerable amount and have to pay it back. All we can do is take their word.
"It's very frustrating," he added. "You multiply $18,393 by 12 and that's more than $220,000 a year."
With the deduction accounted for, West Point would have received roughly $190,000 this month, which is still slightly down, but on more even footing.
Robinson said city leaders account for the deduction, and he feels West Point is doing fine fiscally.
"When we analyze the numbers we get every month, we do consider that deduction," he said. "Overall, I think we're fairly healthy in our overall economy here in Clay County and West Point."
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