Sales tax higher than expected

City officials optimistic but cautious

Early 2003 sales tax returns for the city have beaten planners' expectations in a year of cautious budgeting but high hopes.

"We're pleased to be coming in ahead, but three months don't make a year," said Craig City Manager Jim Ferree.

The

city through February had collected $596,571 in sales tax revenue -- an increase of more than 6 percent year-to-date, according to data collected by the Colorado Department of Revenue and distributed by the city.

Those numbers are bolstered by a strong month in December, which saw a nearly 10 percent increase in revenue year-to-date, according to the same data.

Craig planners have said a two-month lag exists from the time of sales to the receipt of tax dollars from the state.

Ferree said he isn't sure what is driving the increases, but reiterated the city's conservative approach in budgeting sales tax in a sluggish economy.

As with 2002, planners this year budgeted revenues close to levels received the previous year, which reaped about $2.35 million.

Sales tax accounts for roughly half of all revenues Craig projects to take in this year.

Ferree said revenues above this year's projected sales tax wouldn't be spent until 2004.

Should the trend continue "six to 10 percent" above budgeted funds for the year, the money would likely be applied toward various capital construction projects, or defraying the city's rising fuel costs, Ferree said.

That optimism stems from the ongoing overhaul of Tri-State Generation -- efforts, which look to pick up pace this summer.

"We may have a significant (sales tax) increase as a result," Ferree added.

Dana Gregory, Tri-State's environmental project manager, said approximately 150 employees -- mostly involved with construction and various electrical projects -- are currently on-site.

Gregory said that force could grow by another 150 people in the months leading up to a planned six-week outage scheduled for mid-September.

Paul Shockley can be reached at 824-7031 or at pshockley@craigdailypress.com.

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