Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013
By Shelley Grieshop
County eyes third sales tax record
  CELINA - Mercer County is on its way to a third-straight, record-breaking year for sales tax collections.
Sales tax revenue in the general fund this month is up 15.3 percent over July 2012, and year-to-date figures are 5.1 percent higher than last year.
"I'm just so pleasantly surprised," county auditor Randy Grapner said.
Sales tax collections posted in July, which are based on consumer spending about two months earlier, are $397,441, an increase of $52,646 over July 2012. Year to date figures are up $128,117.
The county broke sales tax revenue figures in 2011 and 2012 with $4,083,951 and $4,340,752, respectively. So far this year the county has collected $2,622,711.
Grapner - who has witnessed a steady climb in sales tax revenue since he took office in March 2011 - said the continuing good financial news is linked to the county's low unemployment rate, 4.6 percent in June, according to data released today. Mercer County has solely held the lowest unemployment rate in Ohio for 20 consecutive months.
"We still lead the state with the lowest unemployment," he said. "And our taxpayers are still spending money."
Record-high sales tax collections aren't something the county budgets for "but we certainly welcome the increase," Grapner added.
County commissioner Rick Muhlenkamp took office in January and has watched sales tax figures soar. Like Grapner, he's never experienced a tax slump like those in 2009 and 2010, during the country's recession.
"It's definitely an easier situation ... but we still have to stay conservative," he said, adding commissioners often say no to requests by county leaders for additional appropriations.
Muhlenkamp said expenses were slightly above revenues in a recent report, but those figures yo-yo throughout the year depending on when tax collections and appropriations are posted.
"Overall we're holding steady," he added.
The county's general fund budget this year is $9.6 million; approximately 43 percent is derived from sales tax. The total is 6.8 percent higher than 2012, but 5.3 percent less than in 2008.  
April posted the second-biggest increase in sales tax revenue this year with $333,110 - 9.9 percent or $30,000 higher than April 2012.
The county uses 0.5 percent of the total sales tax collected to pay down and maintain the adult detention center, which opened in 2010 west of Celina. Since January, approximately $1.3 million has been diverted to the jail levy fund.
Consumer spending across the U.S. was up 0.3 percent in May but overall weaker than expected in January, February and April, according to the Commerce Department. Analysts believe an increase in Social Security taxes on Jan. 1, which reduced take-home pay for most Americans, is at least partially to blame for less spending.
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