Holiday season not so merry for retailers in the region

Sales tax rebates show a drop in retail activity across most of the area

By BRUCE ALSOBROOK, News-Telegram Managing Editor

Feb. 22, 2008 - Tax figures reflecting sales activity in Sulphur Springs indicate a not--so-jolly Christmas for local retailers.

The sales tax allocation returned to the city of Sulphur Springs this month by the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts totaled $440,281, down 10.47 percent from February of 2007.

For the two months of the year, the sales tax rebates to the city are a combined $756,919. That's down 5.31 percent compared to the end of February of last year, when the year-to-date total was $799,379.

The city receives 1.5 percentage points of the 8.25 percent tariff charged in the corporate limits on sales of taxable goods. One-third of the sales tax collections received by the city go to the Sulphur Springs-Hopkins County Economic Development Corporation.

Sulphur Springs officials have been braced for a downturn in sales tax activity. For several months, City Finance Director Peter Karstens, during his financial report to the City Council at the panel's regular monthly meeting, has cautioned that sales tax rebates have been flat after healthy returns in past years.

As the city goes sales tax-wise, so goes the county. The sales tax rebate for Hopkins County this month dropped 10.72 percent to $156,681 compared to February of last year. Through the first two months of 2008, the collections are down 5.97 percent to $275,376.

Elsewhere in the county, the city of Cumby reported a 9.15 percent in sales tax rebates compared to one year ago. This month's check was $14,205. Coupled with the January sales tax total, the year-to-date collections have totaled $24,755, up 21.63 percent compared to January and February of 2007.

And there was good news in Como -- this month's rebate, which normally registers a decline, was up for the second straight month. The town received a $1,864 check, 21.37 percent ahead of February of 2007. So far this year, Como's sales tax totals are up 46.17 percent to $3,346.

If Sulphur Springs businesses saw a decline in sales during the holiday season, they can take consolation that they were not alone -- many other municipalities in the area reported downturns in sales tax collections this month.

Mount Pleasant took a 7.32 percent hit on its February rebate, falling to $460,245 this month compared to a year ago. For the first two months of the year, the $808,587 total is down 5.44 percent.

Also recording a decrease was the city of Winnsboro, which has seen double-digit increases in recent months, but saw February's total drop 1.72 percent to $76,578. Through the first two months of 2008, the town's rebates are down 4.09 percent compared to last year.

Another recording a down month was Paris, where the $707,794 sales tax rebate was 5.59 percent less than a year ago. The year-to-date total in the Lamar County seat is $1.137 million, down 7.1 percent from a year ago.

The city of Cooper fell a meager 1.58 percent from a year ago to $10,735 this month. For the year, the town's rebates at 0.72 percent ahead of the first two months of 2007 at $16,231.

In Greenville, the total was virtually unchanged from February 2007 at $617,450; up 0.15 percent. The year-to-date amount of $1.034 million is up 0.85 percent.

Perhaps some of the money that wasn't spent in Sulphur Springs and other area cities ended up in Franklin County -- the rebate in Mount Vernon this month was $69,978, up 33.63 percent from February of 2007. The two-month total for 2008 is $106,234, up 6.26 percent.

This month's local sales tax allocations primarily represent sales made in December and reported to the state comptroller's office in January, but also include activity by businesses that report sales tax to the comptroller on a quarterly or annual basis.

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