By Timothy Cox
Mercer County is on much better financial footing than a year ago, a credit to local budget cuts, increased tax collections and better interest earnings, county Auditor Mark Giesige told county commissioners Tuesday.
The county's cash position is about $1 million better than it was a year ago, when commissioners ordered mid-year budget cuts to curb spending. Giesige said his outlook for the county's fiscal health has gone from "extremely cautious to cautiously optimistic."
Commissioners praised county elected officials and department heads for working together to avoid a worse budget crisis.
Last year at this time the county had a cash balance of $262,745. As of the end of June, the cushion had grown to nearly $1.3 million.
"All our efforts last year have paid off," Giesige told commissioners. "We've reversed the course of our budget decline." Key to the turnaround are sales tax and interest income.
Sales tax collections through June are up 6.11 percent over last year with $1,763,425 generated so far this year. Interest income has improved from $210,000 at this point last year to $300,000 this year, a sign of rising interest rates. Several years ago, invested county money yielded more than $800,000 annually.
Last year's budget reductions and a lighter than expected hit from the state budget further improve the county's financial future, Giesige said. Local government revenue was kept intact in the state budget, despite fears it would be slashed, and a litany of other taxes were adjusted. It is too soon to tell the effect of the tax adjustments state legislators authorized because the new budget took effect less than two weeks ago.
The increase in sales tax revenue is an especially good sign because the numbers do not yet reflect any increases since the opening of the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Celina.
Sales tax revenue from the new store should start showing up for this month, although county officials said it remains uncertain how much of a spike the new development will create. Several adjoining stores to the Wal-Mart facility have not yet opened, including the Bob Evans Restaurant that lies on an outlot of the Wal-Mart site. Development plans for remaining vacant properties at the site remain undetermined.
Sales tax collections should increase from the opening of the larger Wal-Mart store, but probably not drastically, Giesige said. A significant portion of the new store's inventory is food items, which are non-taxable.