Here’s some good news: A sales tax surprise

County staff released sales tax figures for December 2008, and despite the national economy’s abysmal downward spiral, the report indicates Archuleta County fared well, at least during December and the peak of the holiday season.

“This is good news. Collections were up 7.15 percent over December 2007,” said Archuleta County Administrator Greg Schulte.

“In October, everything fell off the face of the earth, nationally. I think we’re holding up really well. We’re down less than one percent for six months over 2007. It’s a huge relief to see we’re fairing better than the national economy, as far as retail sales go,” said Archuleta County Commissioner John Ranson.

By contrast, October and November 2008 showed decreases in sales tax collections as compared to 2007, with October down 6.07 percent and November down 11.67 percent.

Although it’s difficult to pinpoint all the causes for the December revenue spike, two factors likely played significant roles: low fuel prices and heavy snowfall at Wolf Creek Ski Area during Christmas week, both of which contributed to drawing travelers to the Pagosa Springs area.

According to the report, December 2008 collections came in at $673,901, which the town and county split equally. That said, and according to the town-county sales tax agreement re-approved by voters in November, 50 percent of county collections, or $168,475, go into the General Fund, with the other $168,475 going into the Road Capital Improvement Fund.

According to the report, the December infusion of sales tax cash brings cumulative totals in the Road Capital Improvement Fund and the General Fund to $1.65 million each.

Statistics provided by the county finance department indicate Archuleta County Finance Director Don Warn, in August, had projected General Fund sales tax collections at $1.63 million — just $24,000 off actual collections.

“This is great news. I’ll give Don credit, he was within $20,000,” said Ranson.

And Schulte agreed.

“The county is continuing to be vigilant about our finances. We’re monitoring carefully and doing a very good job of projecting revenues and expenditures. This (the sales tax report) is a validation of that,” said Schulte. “Don did an excellent job of revising projections.”

Through trend analysis and accurate revenue projections, Warn has demonstrated competence as the county’s financial soothsayer; however, greater financial forces at the state and national levels are at work and could bode ill for the county, despite their best projections.

“One month doesn’t make a trend,” Ranson said, “but we’re less than one percent down over 2007.”

And Archuleta County Commissioner Clifford Lucero took a similar approach.

“I am excited December is up. We were expecting for December to come in at a lot less. But, I don’t think January is going to be up. It’s something we know, and it’s something we have to prepare for.”

james@pagosasun.com