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City's tax collections down for year

Officials monitoring income, spending

POSTED: April 11, 2013 10:30 a.m.
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City Manager Billy Edwards says tax revenues only appear to be down now because of how they are collected.

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City revenues from property taxes, sales taxes and licenses for the sale of beer, wine and liquor are down from last year, according to a financial report by Chief Financial Officer Kimberly Ryon. She presented the report to the Hinesville City Council at its April 4 meeting.
City Manager Billy Edwards explained that property-tax revenues only appear to be down because the financial report is based on a linear calendar, but property taxes and, to some extent, sales taxes are based on the fiscal year. He said the city’s fiscal year 2013 budget for real property taxes is $5,781,518, but year-to-date, property-tax revenues collected are only $3,635,210.
He said property taxes are due 60 days after the bills are sent out, which means a due date of Feb. 20. Edwards said most people pay their property taxes by Dec. 31 so they can claim the property taxes on their income-tax returns. During her report to the council, Ryon said she suspects the possible variance between the budget and collections are related to how collections are being recorded by the tax office. Edwards said he expects the next financial report to show a more accurate figure for property-tax revenues.
“We’re behind what we were anticipating for sales taxes,” the city manager admitted, explaining that sales-tax revenues are collected one month in arrears. “Sales taxes are probably down some because 9,000 Fort Stewart soldiers are currently deployed. That’s a lot of people.”
He said the stagnant economy, high unemployment and sequestration also may affect sales-tax revenues. Fort Stewart’s Department of Defense employees are facing 14 furlough days beginning this month through the end of September. Many of these families may be putting off major purchases because of uncertainty in their personal finances, he said.
Edwards said he isn’t sure why the sale and renewal of licenses for beer, wine and liquor are down and has asked Ryon’s office for additional information. Her financial report showed sale and renewal of alcohol licenses are down an average 23 percent.
“I’ve asked for a report on (alcohol) business-license renewals,” Edwards said. “I want to see what businesses purchased a license (for beer, wine and liquor) last year and compare that list to those businesses that have not renewed their license. It may be that some of these businesses have closed their doors, or some may be delinquent.”
Edwards also noted that motor-vehicle (license plate) taxes are down nearly 34 percent but said that tax is based on the owner’s birth month. He joked that more people may have birthdays in June than March.
Ryon’s report also noted that building permits for residential and commercial properties are down. On hearing this and the conclusion of her financial report, Mayor Pro Tem Charles Frasier told Ryon that it seemed like she was telling a “gloomy story.” Ryon said it is true that revenues are down and the city has to be careful with its expenses until the economy improves.
“It’s slow, but I wouldn’t say it’s a gloom-and-doom picture,” Edwards said. “After all, we’re in the midst of a slow economy. And I remind you that we’re still the retail hub for those communities surrounding us that are not as military-dependent. We just have to monitor our revenues and expenses. We have to live within our means.”

 

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