November 17, 2017 10:35:29 AM
Columbus' sales tax collections are down slightly, but its 2-percent restaurant tax revenue is growing as local leaders bicker over how to renew it.
Sales tax revenues were mostly flat this month, with $823,083, compared to $827,363 last year. The revenues were for taxes collected at stores in September.
Sales tax collections run on a three-month cycle, where they are collected at stores, sent to Mississippi Department of Revenue and distributed to cities.
In October, the city received $785,033, according to the MDOR website. That's down from October 2016's $794,276.
Still Columbus has taken in more than $1.6 million in sales tax so far this fiscal year -- which began Oct. 1 -- and is coming off the heels of its two best sales tax collection years on record.
Mayor Robert Smith, in an issued statement, said he's pleased with the city's tax revenue, and expects it to grow for the holidays.
"Our sales tax numbers continue to be strong," Smith said. "We had a good summer and expect this holiday season to also be strong. We continue to see a firm sales tax base from these numbers."
While sales tax collections are somewhat down, the city's special tax revenue is up significantly this month, compared to last year.
The city received $146,288 for its restaurant tax this month, compared to $134,571 in November 2016. Similarly, it drew $58,715.11 for its hotel/motel tax, compared to $31,001 last year. Totaled, those taxes generated $205,003 in revenue for the month, compared to $165,574 in November 2016.
This month's growth has pushed the city's special tax collection higher for this point in the fiscal year than last year.
In October, revenue was lightly down, to $157,477 total, compared to $159,722 received in October 2016 according to MDOR.
However, with November's revenue, the tax has generated $362,480 so far in FY 2018, compared to $325,296.
Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Nancy Carpenter said she expects the growth to continue through the fiscal year, especially with the city recently hosting major events such as a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People conference. She said Mississippi State University athletics have continued to draw visitors to the city.
The city of Columbus and Lowndes County have recently approved conflicting resolutions of support for the renewal of the 10-year tax, which currently leave grim prospects for the Legislature renewing it. Carpenter said she "absolutely" hopes the continued growth will convince city and county leaders to work together.
"We're continuously adverting and promoting our brand as a destination and want our visitors to have a wonderful experience when they come," she said. "This increased visitor spending increases economic growth and quality of life all throughout Lowndes County. It's all tied together."
Starkville is off to a strong start with sales tax revenue for Fiscal Year 2018.
For the first two months of the fiscal year the city has pulled in more than $1.2 million.
Starkville got $608,135 in sales tax collections from the Mississippi Department of Revenue this month, for taxes collected in September.
This month's revenue is higher than the $585,700 the city received in November 2016 for September 2016's collections.
Likewise, the city started the fiscal year with $619,204 received in October, for August's collections. That's $22,888 more than October 2016's revenue of $596,316.
Mayor Lynn Spruill said it was gratifying to see the growth, which shows people see Starkville as a destination town. She said she hopes the city can continue to improve upon its popularity as a travel destination in the fall, when Mississippi State University home football games are a mainstay, and through the rest of the year.
Starkville's 2-percent special tax revenues are also up. The city received $40,316 in revenue last month and $23,339 this month. The totals are up from $22,561 in October 2016 and $21,131 November 2016.
"You always expect to have good things in the fall, when we have football and lots of things going on," she said. "This is something we want to do year-round. We want to be a destination city. Sales tax and 2-percent tax increases are evidence that we're succeeding in that goal. We're grateful that our board of aldermen (and) city staff are participating to help make Starkville the kind of place where people want to be."
The start of FY 18 is the first time, going back to at least the start of FY 2015, the city has started the year with more than $600,000 in monthly collections. In fiscal years 2015, 2016 and 2017, the city's first two months of revenues averaged about $583,638.
Spruill, who wants to continue to push the city as a place for sports tournaments and other events, hopes to see that growth continue, she said.
"I fully expect it to tick up," Spruill said. "All the things we're doing are focused on that outcome. I fully expect us to continue working toward that."
West Point's sales tax revenues are down this month, and for the fiscal year.
Mayor Robbie Robinson said the city received $165,662 from MDOR this month, compared to $198,736 in November 2016.
West Point's FY 18 started July 1, and in that period, the city has taken in $665,083 according to a total from the MDOR website. That's down nearly $200,000 from $806,202 for the same period in FY 17.
The city's decline in revenues isn't as straightforward as a simple drop in collections. Robinson said MDOR is withholding $18,393 every month to make up for sales tax overpayments to the city. Robinson said the details on the situation have been scarce because MDOR won't share much information with the city. However, the department will withhold the money every month through June 2019.
Without the money withheld, West Point would've received about $185,000 this month which, while still down, is much closer to last year's $198,736. For the six months of the fiscal year so far, the withheld money has cost West Point $110,358 in revenue.
Robinson said the situation has frustrated him.
"Of course it's frustrating," Robinson said. "They're withholding all of that money every month for something that wasn't even our fault."
Still, with the holiday season approaching, he said he hopes to see the city capture some additional sales taxes as people go to stores to shop.
"We're hoping we can get some of that growth," he said."
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