By Tim Cox
Sales tax collections in Mercer County did not significantly spike with the opening of the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Celina as some had suspected they would.
Sales tax revenue for July was about $321,000, up just slightly from $320,000 for July 2004. The collections lag behind by a month, so July represents the first full month of sales tax revenue from the Wal-Mart store.
County Auditor Mark Giesige said he was expecting a marginal increase but was surprised by the spike that amounted to just a fraction of 1 percent. But Giesige had cautioned for months that the opening of Wal-Mart would not signal a huge run-up in tax revenue.
A number of factors play into the stagnant sales tax number. The old Wal-Mart is closed and non-taxable food items make up about half of the new store's inventory. Plus, some other businesses presumably lost business to the new Wal-Mart. Additionally, the state department of taxation sometimes makes adjustments to tax payments to counties on a month-to-month basis, but does not provide specific details, Giesige said.
Also, a single month is not an accurate gauge of how sales tax collections will be affected over the long-term, Giesige said. The nearly non-existent increase in monthly sales tax revenue also surprised county Community Development Director Larry Stelzer, who predicted the entire Wal-Mart-anchored shopping complex eventually would reap dividends.
"I know that store is keeping a lot of people from going to Lima to do their shopping," Stelzer said. "I'm totally convinced this is going to be huge for taxes and development."
A group of businesses in a strip mall adjacent to Wal-Mart will help boost sales tax collections as will the business that eventually occupies the second large tract of land at the site. Past speculation has focused around a Home Depot or other home improvement superstore, but the developer has not announced any firm plans for the property.
"Just wait until those satellite stores get filled, then we'll see it," Stelzer said.