County sales tax plummeting

First quarter receipts down 8.2% from last year, a drop of $692,919

Sales tax revenue has taken a dramatic dive in Mesa County.

The first quarter this year is down 8.2 percent, compared to the first quarter of last year, a drop of $692,919.

Each month the numbers turn more toward the negative, forcing the county to plan for a future far less flush with cash than the past few years.

Sales taxes for March were down 17.2 percent, compared to March 2008.

A week ago, at a joint meeting of all Mesa County department heads and county commissioners, Mesa County Administrator Jon Peacock said the revenues are down much more than anticipated.

“I have really challenged my departments to do belt tightening,” he said.

Peacock said he wants $3.6 million in savings opportunities, from across the organization, presented to him from county staff. Savings already have been found in fuel, delaying the purchase of new computers and changes to the county’s merit-pay system.

The ideas will be cataloged and drawn upon when necessary. Peacock predicted it will be late in the year when the economy begins showing signs of rebounding.

“We do believe there will be more economic activity in the last two quarters of the year,” he said.

The county is shifting personnel to deal with the changing economy. Employees in areas where business might be slow these days, such as the building department, are being retrained to serve in other areas that are seeing heavier use, such as the workforce center.

No doubt sales taxes, the county’s prime revenue source, have an impact on the county’s $155 million net budget for 2009. But severance taxes, revenues derived from the amount of natural gas flowing from Mesa County wells, figure to force more budget chopping.

Early indications, Peacock said, suggest severance tax revenue for Mesa County could be down 60 to 70 percent.

The state is estimating severance taxes for this year will fall from $250 million to $40 million, and Mesa County is estimating rig counts will drop by 75 percent from their 2008 peak in northwest Colorado.

Peacock said he is holding a meeting later this week in which the focus will be determining how to increase county financial reserves so it can continue providing the services residents expect from local government.

Overall, the county is in good shape, Peacock said, adding, “This is not good news, but this is not a time to panic. We have planned for it.”

That is not to say the county is not taking advantage of unplanned funding opportunities like the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.

County employee Kimberly Bullen has been named the county’s stimulus guru, coordinating
all applications and distributing stimulus grant information to all county departments.

Peacock said a million stimulus dollars, for capital construction projects, would get the county’s budget back on track.


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