Friday, January 3rd, 2014
By Shelley Grieshop
Mercer County sales tax income reaches all-time high in 2013
  CELINA - Mercer County residents opened their wallets frequently in 2013 and triggered a new sales tax record of $4.6 million.
The 6.9 percent increase in sales tax collections over 2012 marks a third consecutive record-breaking year for the county.
"Other counties can't come close to this. We've got a lot to be thankful for," county auditor Randy Grapner said.
Early in 2013 he predicted sales tax revenue would hit $4.2 million for the year. The county garnered $4.3 million in 2012.
The county collected $389,244 in sales tax for December - 7.1 percent more than December 2012. The numbers tallied each month reflect spending from about two months earlier.
Grapner said taxes collected on auto sales last year were $731,000 - an increase of 12 percent over 2012.
"It looks like car sales really increased," he said, adding he doesn't track any other sales category.
County commissioner Jerry Laffin said the increase in total sales tax revenue "will help out tremendously."
"It makes us more confident," he said. "It also tells us that people are buying locally."
Sales tax revenue covers about 43 percent of the county's budget. Commissioners are still fine-tuning the 2014 budget but have set total appropriations for slightly more than $10 million, Laffin said. The budget for 2013 was $9.6 million.   
"This year's figure is based on revenue and things we have to do," he said.
Commissioners have not decided whether to appropriate funds for each department to give raises, although several agencies already have begun the process after undergoing wage comparison reviews, he said.
Laffin said the county is eyeing several capital improvement projects this year such as courthouse upgrades and paving the Central Service Building parking lot and the nearby former jail site, which was razed several months ago.
"We also need to upgrade the air conditioning system in the Central Service Building," he added.
Laffin and Grapner believe the county's good fiscal standing is related to its unemployment rate - the lowest in the state for more than two years.
"We've always said that when people have income ... they tend to buy bigger items or things for their home," Laffin said. "But we realize there still are people who are without work."
Mercer County posted 4.4 percent unemployment in November, the most recent month available.
Despite the consistent growth in sales tax revenue between 2011 and 2013, Grapner predicts a 1 percent drop this year and is remaining conservative.
"We're still tight on our budget and watching everything," he said. "We're asking each department to 'hold the line.' "
Grapner this year expects more losses in local government funds and less-than-expected casino tax dollars. Expenses continue to climb for the courts, prosecutor's office and sheriff's department due to a pending murder case and an overall increase in drug-related cases, he said.
Still, he's not as worried about the local economy as he is the national scene.
"It's the federal government and the health care issues ... . Who knows where that's going to go. The lack of direction keeps me on pins and needles," Grapner said.
The county uses 0.5 percent of the total sales tax collected each year to pay down the debt and maintain its adult detention center. The facility moved in 2010 from north of the courthouse to a rural location west of Celina.
In 2013, the county took in $2.3 million for the detention center. The total collected since a levy began generating dollars in mid-2008 is approximately $11.2 million.
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