Mid-year evidence suggests that the establishment of a Wal Mart store in Bennettsville, SC in July of last year has not been as damaging to sales tax revenue in Scotland County as some feared.
During a Thursday report to the board of commissioners, Finance Officer Charles Nichols reported that the county was on pace to collect $5.5 million in sales tax for the 2012-13 year.
Concerned that the Bennettsville store would take a bite out of local sales, the commissioners only budgeted $5.1 million in sales tax revenue for the current year.
“It doesn’t appear the Wal Mart in Bennettsville has affected us like we thought it would,” Nichols said during his report to the board. “We’ve collected through the first eight months already $3.7 million in sales tax.”
For the month of February the county reported having received about $100,000 more in sales tax than during the same month in 2012 (these were collections of taxes from the previous November).
Despite the good news, the commissioners were hesitant to declare the Bennettsville Wal Mart a non-factor, preferring to wait until the March sales tax figures are reported. That information would reflect sales tax collections through the past Christmas shopping season.
During the same mid-year retreat, county Tax Collector Mary Helen Norton reported that property tax collections were just about on target as outlined in the budget.
Through January 31, $18,263,651 had been collected in property taxes. Based on that figure, Norton projects that the county will collected $20,307,651 – about $13,000 less than what was budgeted – by the end of the fiscal year.
“So we are right on our projection,” said Chairman Guy McCook.
After a six year low in 2010, total collections are trending upward, according to County Manager Kevin Patterson.
“If you look at the trend, there has been a slight increase in collections … so we’re trending in a positive direction,” Patterson said.
Thursday’s presentations from the county’s finance staff were praised by McCook as a welcome change from past years, in both their comprehensive nature and in their plainness.
“I would like to personally commend the staff for pulling this together … It was much easier to understand … (and) this is a huge step in the right direction to help us be better stewards (of tax payer money),” McCook said.
Following the presentations, the commissioners established some early goals for the upcoming budget planning process.
According to Patterson, one of the most important goals that the board will prioritize is returning furlough days to county employees.
Last year the county restored half of the 2.5 percent of employee pay it eliminated through furlough days. This year the commissioners will look to restore the remaining 1.25 percent, if possible.
The commissioners also agreed during Thursday’s meeting to investigate taking over the DMV license office contract, which is expiring in March. If it is allowed to expire with no alternative in place, locals will have to travel to a neighboring county for those DMV services.
“I think we should at least look into this,” said Commissioner Whit Gibson.
Norton said that she did not believe that the office would provide “a lot of revenue, but that it would be some revenue stream.”
If the county does get into the license office business, Commissioner Bob Davis said that it would only be after all other options were exhausted.
“The only reason I would want us to pursue it would be if that we would have to go to Richmond County (otherwise),” Davis said.
In agreement, the commissioners instructed staff to first determine if any local private business was interested in the contract before moving forward.
And while it may seem like a small measure, Patterson said that he believes moving to an electronic agenda for commissioners meetings could save the county thousands annually in costs associated with printing paper copies.
Every time a late change is made just prior to a meeting, dozens of new agenda copies must be printed and organized.
If the county makes the jump to electronic agendas, the change would pay for the purchase of tablets for the commissioners in just a few years.
A similar change in Davidson County, according to that county’s manager, saved approximately $2,700 annually.
The Scotland County School System already uses electronic agendas.