Sales tax collections returning to pre-recession levels

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Sales tax collections in Grand Junction and Mesa County continue to outpace last year and remain on track to return to pre-recession levels.

The trend bodes well not only for government coffers, but also retail activity in the Grand Valley.

According to a city report for May, a total of more than $3.9 million in sales and use taxes were collected, a 3.4 percent increase over the report for the same month last year. The latest gain brings sales and use tax collections for reports for January through May to nearly $20.6 million, a 4.2 percent increase over the same span last year.

“It continues to look strong,” said Jodi Romero, financial operations director for the City of Grand Junction.

Year-over-year gains were even larger on a proportional basis for Mesa County.

The county reported collecting a total of more than $2.3 million in sales taxes for its capital improvement and general funds in May, an increase of 12.2 percent over the same month last year.

According to reports for the first five months of 2012, the county collected a total of almost $11.4 million in sales taxes for the two funds, a 10.2 percent gain over last year.

In addition to tax collections for the capital improvement and general funds, the report for May included almost $883,000 in sales taxes distributed to cities and towns in the Mesa County, including Grand Junction. That brings total distributions to cities and towns for reports for the first five months of 2012 to $4.3 million,

Since tax reports lag a month behind sales, the May report reflects April sales. Reports for the first five months of 2011 reflect sales between December and April.

Year-over-year gains in 20 out of the last 21 months constitute a significant trend, said Marcia Arnold, finance director for Mesa County.

If year-over-year gains continue through 2012, sales tax collections for the city and county will reach their highest levels since before the onset of the recession in 2009.

Romero expects city sales and use tax collections for 2012 to return to the levels of 2006 and 2007, but remain below 2008.

City sales and use tax collections have increased on a year-over-year basis since the middle of 2010. That followed what was in 2009 and the first half of 2010 the worst drop in tax collections in 25 years.

Use tax collections have lagged, a reflection of decreased activities and investments by companies that provide support services to the energy industry in the region, Romero said. Grand Junction imposes use taxes on goods purchased from suppliers outside the city, but used inside the city — including equipment and materials.

However, growth in sales tax collections has more than offset the decline in use tax collections, Romero said.

According to a more detailed report for the first three months of 2012 that was released in June, city sales tax collections increased on a year-over-year basis for nearly category, including construction materials, general merchandise, miscellaneous retail sales, motor vehicles and restaurant and bar sales.

Sales tax collections similarly increased in nearly every district by which the city tracks collections by location.

Mesa Mall and the 24 Road corridor accounted for almost $2.4 million in collections during the first quarter of 2012, a 5.6 increase over the span span last year.   U.S. Highway 6 & 50 from its intersection with First Street and Grand Avenue west to Fruita, accounted for more than $2.1 million, a gain of 11.3 percent. The downtown district collected almost $574,000, an increase of 2.8 percent.

Declining collections were reported for two districts, including North Avenue from First Street east to the Interstate Highway 70 business loop. Collections form the North Avenue district edged down two-tenths of a percent to about $1.1 million.

Arnold expects county sales tax collections to climb to their highest level since 2008.

The trend in increased sales tax collections for the county so far in 2012 extends a rebound in 2011 that followed declines in 2010 and 2009. Annual sales tax revenues increased 7 percent in 2011 after falling 6.4 percent in 2010 and tumbling almost 21 percent in 2009.

A return to the rapid growth in tax collections that occurred between 2005 and 2008 — a span Arnold describes as a “bubble” — isn’t likely, she said. Rather, she expects more moderate growth to continue.

Increasing sales tax revenues for the county come at an opportune time, Arnold said, in offsetting decreasing property tax revenues because of valuations based on lower market values.