Sales tax revenue dips; city officials optimistic

City sales tax revenue was down for the second month in a row, and city officials say there's not much to do at this point but wait.

"There's really nothing we can do but monitor it," Finance Director Bruce Nelson said.

Nelson released the most recent sales tax figures -- those from January -- this week and delivered the news that revenues were down 7.58 percent from January 2003 collections.

That follows a 1.88 percent decrease in December revenues.

"We usually watch sales tax pretty close," Nelson said.

Sales tax makes up a majority of the city's general fund revenue.

The actual difference was $13,392.86, and so isn't enough to cause panic, Nelson said.

"It's really too early to tell," he said. "Let's just hope the next one's higher."

The city has a $1.8 million reserve in the general fund, but the decline in revenue hasn't caused a need to dip into it.

City council members are concerned that a large construction project at the Craig Station Power Plant has helped hold revenues steady over the past few months and when it ends -- late next month -- the real picture of declining revenue will be seen.

"What's going to happen when the construction project ends?" Councilor Kent Nielson said.

The city budgeted for very little increase in sales tax revenue from 2003 to 2004, allowing for a cost-of-living increase in operational budgets and cutting capital expenditures.

Nelson doesn't know what to attribute the decline to except the nation's economy.

"(The numbers) concern me, and we'll be watching them pretty close," Councilor Bill Johnston said. "I don't get to worried two months into the year."

He said he has faith that the city staff will cut back spending if the numbers continue to decline.

In other funds, the city is showing an increase. County sales tax is up -- slightly -- for the second month running, for year-to-date collections of $159,581.19.

Fees collected for sewer service were up 8.87 percent in February and 9.01 percent in January. Revenue from water and trash fees are also up.

The only glitch in funding for the city's enterprise funds is revenues collected for landfill fees, which were down in January, but climbed again in February. Residents paid $13,683.40 to the city for landfill fees in January and the city paid $16,764.66. In February the city actually collected $4,014.08 more than they paid.

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, Ext. 210 or by e-mail at ccurrie@craigdailypress.com.

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