Columbus sales tax collection slump continues

May 20, 2013 10:29:15 AM

Nathan Gregory - [email protected]


Columbus' tax revenue continues to slump, remaining below average for the seventh consecutive month.  


The city's sales tax collections for the month of May were $781,624.11, down $28,075.88 from the $809,699.99 collected in May 2012. That brings the eight-month fiscal year total so far to $4,985,880.44. By this point last year, the city had collected $5,120,771.57. 


Two-percent restaurant tax returns were also down from last May's total of $140,062.26. This May, that total was $133,152.87. 


Meanwhile, 2-percent hotel tax revenues increased from last May's $17,567.18 to $20,362.18 this May. 


Two-percent restaurant tax collections fund the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau. The 2-percent hotel tax is used to maintain the Trotter Convention Center. 


The city asked the Mississippi Department of Revenue two months ago to investigate the waning returns, a process which chief financial officer Milton Rawle said could take several more months. With the tourism events that have taken place in the past two months, he said, the city's chance of bouncing back in the short-term is strong. 


"From what I'm seeing, last year was a better-than-normal year," Rawle said. "I've been researching, trying to find out what was better last year than this year, and what I'm seeing is that last year we had workers at KiOR doing construction and that helped improve the numbers from last year. Tourism is down this year from last year. Hopefully with Market Street (Festival) numbers being in, next month's will be higher." 


Rawle said adjustments to the city's budget will likely be made at the end of this fiscal year to make up for any shortfall. 


"(This year's projected returns were) budgeted per last year's numbers," he said. "Last year they did $8,776,381.04, and this year they budgeted below the actual numbers that came in. They budgeted $8,655,000 for the year. We're going to need some pretty good months to hit that number, and that will tell me if we have a chance (to match last year's total)." 


Rawle plans to meet with CVB Executive Director Nancy Carpenter to discuss upcoming tourism events and ways to increase tourism.  


"We've got to get the foot traffic up in the city as far as eating and shopping," he said.  


Starkville sales tax numbers have trended higher each month of 2013. In 2012, the city saw a $3,000 dip in numbers from February to March, but this year Starkville took in almost $16,000 more in the same time frame, posting approximately $491,545.50 in non-2 percent returns. 


In February, the city collected $475,222.71 in non-2 percent monies, a .89 percent decline from the previous year's month, which marked the highest sales tax return for that specific month. 


April data, the most recent available in West Point, indicates collections also declined. The latest reported total, $169,383.36, was down $10,015.39 from $179,398.75 last year.  


The Mississippi Department of Revenue collects 81.5 percent of the 7 percent sales tax from municipalities and distributes the remaining 18.5 percent back to the municipalities over a three-month cycle. Tax distributions received by municipalities in May reflect money collected by businesses in March.

Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.