County still lagging, but improving
Leap in April sales-tax revenue an encouraging sign
Sales-tax revenues leaped in April, giving additional reasons for optimism about Mesa County’s economy, but the county is far from having achieved economic recovery, County Administrator Frank Whidden said Monday.
Whidden spent part of the morning bringing the county commissioners up to date on the state of the county.
The nation seems to have embarked on the road to economic recovery and “Fortunately, Mesa County isn’t lagging way, way behind,” Whidden said.
One sign of that is April’s sales tax take, which jumped 10.4 percent over the same month last year.
April 2017’s tally of $2.72 million outstripped 2016’s $2.47 million and pushed year-to-date totals 1.4 percent above last year’s figures, from $9.9 million to just over $10 million.
“We’re all triple-checking it” to make sure the increase is real, Whidden said.
County officials had worried through the spring about sluggish sales continuing from 2016 into 2017. Last year saw an actual decrease, from $28.8 million in 2015 to $27.9 million in 2016.
One month’s strong performance, though, does not a recovery make, Whidden said.
Even with the April jump, sales-tax coffers are behind budget projections, which anticipated $10.4 million in the first four months of 2017.
And even though property owners saw the valuations of their property increase, their actual tax bills in January will remain about the same as this year, as the county will reduce the levy to hold revenues even.
And nothing has happened to change the county’s main challenge: funding law enforcement, Whidden said.
“Public safety is still the issue,” he said.
The county’s 2017 budget includes some increases for the offices of the Mesa County sheriff and Mesa County district attorney, but the amounts fall well short of restoring funding that was cut in 2010.
One nagging question about the county’s condition is the jail, which has an average daily population of 429. It was designed originally for 392 beds and has been modified to allow for more inmates.
The county’s labor force appears to have steadied and unemployment has fallen — both signs of recovery, Whidden said.
Still, applications for food assistance hit a five-year high in December 2016.
More than half the county’s population receives some form of assistance “and that speaks to the wage levels” in the county, Whidden said. Most recipients are working and still need help.
“They’re not lazy, but they can’t find jobs that can sustain themselves,” Whidden said.