Monday, December 22, 2014

City pleased by near-record sales tax kitty

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 1/3/2014

From his window, Roger Sample has a front row view of Ottawa’s downtown retail traffic.

And the local businessman said he is encouraged by what he’s seeing.

From his window, Roger Sample has a front row view of Ottawa’s downtown retail traffic.

And the local businessman said he is encouraged by what he’s seeing.

“We’ve seen growth,” Sample, who has co-owned Front Row Sports with his wife, Sandy, since November 2010 at 226 S. Main St., said. “I’m sure part of that is people are becoming familiar with us. But, personally, I feel optimistic the economy is improving.”

Front Row Sports’ sales growth is not unlike that of other local merchants. The City of Ottawa’s sales tax coffers rang up at a near-record pace in 2013.

Ottawa fell just shy of matching the city’s record-setting sales tax collection year of 2008, Scott Bird, the city’s finance director, said Thursday.

“We fell $3,000 short of having our best year on record,” Bird said.

The city amassed $3,594,768 in sales tax collections in 2013, compared to $3,597,203 in 2008, according to city figures. Ottawa’s 2013 total was 3.95 percent more than 2012’s collections of $3,458,329.

Jeff Seymour, executive director of the Franklin County Development Council, said he thinks the economy is showing signs of improvement, based on what he’s hearing from businesses.

“I hope we’ll see some new housing starts in the coming year [in Franklin County],” Seymour said, “which would be another indicator the economy is on the rebound.”  

Sample agreed with Seymour the regional economy seems to be improving right along with retail sales growth in Franklin County.

“We have seen steady growth in Garnett,” Sample said.

The couple has had a Front Row Sports retail store in the Anderson County seat since 1997, he said.

If Ottawa’s sales tax collections would not have stumbled in November, 2013 likely would have been one for the record books, Bird said.

“November was really disappointing,” Bird said. “We were $45,000 in the negative [compared to November 2012].”

While November’s sales tax collections were underwhelming for Ottawa, the Kansas economy continued to show signs of steady growth with November sales tax receipts beating projections, state revenue department officials said.

“It is encouraging to see sales tax receipts topping expectations because that means people and businesses are confident enough in the economy to spend their money,” Nick Jordan, state Department of Revenue secretary, said in a news release. “Lowering the individual income tax rates has let people hold on to more of the money they earned. They are now able to spend it as they see fit.”

Sales tax receipts were $1.1 million more than anticipated or about 1 percent, according to state estimates.

Bird would not speculate why sales tax collections tanked locally in November, but he said a strong finish in December, which showed about a 6-percent growth over December 2012’s total, put 2013 back on track.  

Last year’s total collections of $3.594 million also topped the city’s year-end estimate for budgeting purposes by 0.33 percent, Bird said.

“In reality, we had a very good year, and that was really pleasing,” Bird said.

With nearly 4 percent growth in sales tax collections in the past year — coupled with feedback he’s received from local retailers — Bird said he thinks the local economy is continuing to show signs of being on the mend. Last year’s collections outpaced 2010’s $3.3 million total by nearly $300,000.

Advantage Ford, one of the biggest contributors to the city’s sales tax coffers, recently moved its dealership from North Main Street to 2320 S. Oak St., near I-35 in Ottawa. Bird said the dealership’s move to a more visible location could boost sales and ultimately put more sales tax dollars in the city’s coffers in 2014.

“I would hope things would continue to improve [for the local economy],” Bird said. “I’m not seeing anything that would indicate otherwise. When you drive through town in the evening, parking is full in two or three different blocks, and that’s a good sign. I talk with retailers and, for the most part, they are indicating things are going better.”

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