By Tim Cox
Mercer County sales tax collections are down from a year ago, but Auditor Mark Giesige said the county remains on track to generate the $3.5 million he forecast for 2006.
The county's 1 percent sales tax brought in $283,000 in January and $284,000 in February, numbers that stack up well historically but are far off the figures posted during the first two months of last year. Because sales tax collections lag behind, the January and February figures represent tax revenue generated during the Christmas shopping season.
In 2005, the county posted a record January collection of $342,000 followed by an inflated figure of $297,000 in February. In 2004, the sales tax collections for January and February were about $277,000.
"I'm not sure why the 2005 figures spiked higher," Giesige said. "There are always spikes and variations. You really need three or fourth months to more accurately track whether revenue is rising or falling."
The $283,000 January tax collection is 21 percent below last year's number but 2.2 percent ahead of January 2004. Tracking sales tax collections is important to county officials because the revenue represents nearly 40 percent of county general fund money and is the largest single source of county income. Property taxes, local government funding from the state and fees collected by county offices make up the rest of the county's revenue. Despite the drop-off in income taxes over the early months of 2005, Giesige said he remains confident the county will hit his estimate of $3.5 million in sales tax collections. That figure was used by county officials to craft this year's budget.
The estimate is conservative; the county generated $3.6 million last year and sales tax revenue rarely goes down from year to year.
"We're on track to hit that. I'm not worried about that," Giesige said.
By simply projecting January and February's numbers over the course of an entire year, the county would bring in about $3.4 million in sales tax revenue.