Capital City sees tax collections rise during fourth quarter

JACKSON — An encouraging sign for the city of Jackson’s economy is the $256,000 rise in sales taxes in the last quarter over the same period in 2010.

The numbers primarily reflect a strong holiday season for retailers, but business leaders said they’re cautiously optimistic that gains could continue into this year.

“Across the retail group as a whole, we were hearing pretty good reports that this past year, the holiday season was better than last,” said Duane O’Neill, executive director of the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership. “But even more encouraging is the fact that the folks that I’ve been talking to seem to think that that has continued into the new year,” in part because of tax refunds.

“Each month has gotten progressively better than the last couple of months as far as people spending a little more of their money,” he said.

Sales tax revenue not only outpaced that of last year, it also bested the city’s own expectations. The Clarion-Ledger reports the city ended the quarter collecting $322,000, or 4.38 percent, above what it budgeted. The fourth quarter of calendar 2011 is the beginning of the city’s fiscal year.

“It shows that our economy is robust and that sales tax collections up to this point are strong, but it also shows that the mayor and department directors in the administration have done an exceptional job again at budgeting wisely,” city spokesman Chris Mims said. “We hope that this trend of greater-than-projected sales tax revenue continues throughout the year.”

Mims said there’s no plan to use revenue gains for anything in particular; typically, he said, unexpected gains are put into the reserve fund and used as needed for budget overruns. And a big chunk of the city’s revenue picture is still unknown. Just 2.76 percent of the fiscal year’s expected property taxes had been collected as of Jan. 1, with the bulk expected to come in this quarter. The city budgeted for around $55 million in property taxes and $30 million in sales taxes this fiscal year.

Mims attributed some of the gains to a good year of business growth. He said the city issued close to 1,000 new business licenses, and $150 million worth of building permits for some 1,400 projects.

“It’s just a testament to the faith that people have in the city of Jackson,” Mims said. “People want to do business in the city of Jackson.”

The local economy mirrors positive indicators across the country. For instance, January marked a fifth straight month of declining unemployment.

But business leaders remain tempered in their optimism.

“It’s one step forward and a half step backward,” said Ben Allen, the head of Downtown Jackson Partners. “I’m not getting an impression that people are doing backflips in glee, but they are more comfortable. Businesses are growing.”

O’Neill agreed the situation remains precarious, noting one major event like a surge in gas prices or bad news overseas could stymie momentum.

“We’re so fragile right now,” he said. “But fortunately things have been a little more on the steady side for the last couple of months now, so we are optimistic.”

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