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Monday, June 18th, 2012

Sales tax collections up

Mercer County

By Shelley Grieshop

Nancy Kanney counts money at the register this morning at Celina's Half Price Ca. . .

Wallets are opening a little wider these days, giving local officials reason to smile.
Sales tax figures in Mercer County are up 7.4 percent or $148,719 this year over last year's numbers. June's data shows an increase of 7.9 percent over June 2011. Monthly figures are based on sales about two months earlier.
The county has recorded 25 consecutive months of sales tax increases, county auditor Randy Grapner said.
"This is a wonderful economic indicator," he said.
Mercer County Commissioner John Bruns believes the good news is closely linked to the county's rosy unemployment rates. April unemployment figures, the most recent available, fell from 4.9 to 4.5 percent. The county has held the lowest unemployment rate in Ohio for six consecutive months, and either tied or solely captured the position 14 of the last 17 months.
Frugality is the key, commissioners said.
"We keep hearing nationwide how the economy is slipping, but we've stayed conservative and each month our sales numbers have gone up," Jerry Laffin said.
Commissioners believe the good news will give the public confidence to continue spending and further grow the economy.
Last year's sales tax receipts hit $4 million and broke the county's all-time record. At the current pace, Grapner believes this year's collections could surpass that figure by $300,000. But he remains guarded.
"At this point, there's so many things going on in the world. ... we're going to continue to make cuts," he said.
Grapner said department heads should be lauded for the county's overall good fiscal health. They reduced spending and helped the county end last year with a $1.1 million carryover, he said. Grapner hopes to have $2 million to start 2013.
Also placing the county in good financial standing is an increase of 8.10 percent or $86,441 in first quarter real estate tax collections, compared to 2011. The amount collected this year is based on property reappraisals performed a year ago.
Grapner said the extra dollars in the county coffers may allow for the purchase of computer software and hardware upgrades - items that were delayed when the recession hit. But no decisions have been made, he added.
"We feel good about it (finances) but keep hearing the horror stories in other counties in Ohio. You know, you watch the news and ... we just can't be over-optimistic at this point," he said.
Grapner said recent funding losses such as local government revenues and the termination of estate taxes have strained the budgets of all counties, townships, villages and the city of Celina. Locally, more than $1 million was taken from political subdivisions during the last two years, he said.
"Taxpayers want us to cut, but they don't see the cuts we've already had to make," he said.
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