County sales tax continues slow climb

Mesa County has rung up its two largest quarterly sales-tax increases since the recession began, a sign that shoppers have begun relaxing the choke hold on their wallets and purses.

The county collected just shy of $8.4 million in the first three months of this year from sales in December, January and February, a 4.7 percent boost over the first quarter of 2010. That followed on the heels of nearly $8.8 million coming in the last quarter of 2010, a 5.8 percent jump over the same period in 2009.

The back-to-back quarterly sales-tax boons are the greatest since the county raked in $11.1 million in sales-tax receipts in the last three months of 2007, 17 percent more than in the last quarter of 2006. After enduring 21 consecutive months of sales-tax declines, the county has posted seven straight months of growth, the longest stretch since 2007.

Of the revenue generated by the county’s 2 percent sales tax, the county funnels half of it into its general fund and a little less then one-fourth into its capital fund. The remaining revenue is divvied up among Grand Junction, Fruita, Palisade, De Beque and Collbran.

“Things are loosening up out there as far as what people are spending,” county Finance Director Marcia Arnhold said. “Maybe we’ve hit bottom and now we’re going to slowly, slowly climb out.”

Diane Schwenke, president and chief executive officer of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, said while the increases should be taken with a grain of salt because local governments’ tax revenue has bottomed out, the rebound is cause for cautious optimism.

“It’s obviously a trend in the right direction, it’s one we want to see, but what I’m hearing from the business community is very uneven,” she said.

Schwenke said many businesses report they can’t keep up with demands one week, then are scrounging for customers the next.

She said economic indicators aside from sales-tax revenue are likewise mixed.

The county’s 11 percent unemployment rate remains “very troubling,” but the fact that hiring signs are starting to pop up around town is encouraging, she said.

“It’s a mixed bag, but at least it’s mixed now as opposed to last year at this time,” she said.

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