Drop in Columbia County 1-cent tax raises concerns

When speaking at public events, Columbia County commissioners often ask residents to shop within the county, pointing out more local spending means more sales tax money for road, water and recreation projects.

Over the past year-and-a-half, residents appeared to heed the advice, as county sales tax figures have averaged more than $1 million a month since January 2006.

A recent dip, however, has officials watching. June's figures - the latest available - showed a decrease of $92,497 in 1-cent sales tax collections compared with the same month a year ago. Commissioners say they're not worried about one month, but they'll stay alert.

"We expect little slumps," said Commissioner Tommy Mercer. "If the trend keeps going that way, three or four months, you know, I'm going to get a little concerned about it."

Each month, commissioners are updated on the latest figures by Leanne DeLoach, the county's finance director, who noted the June drop in the her latest report.

In June, the county collected $1,342,265 in sales tax. In June 2006, $1,434,762 in sales tax was registered.

Sales tax figures are important in helping the county construct projects without a tax increase. Sales tax projections for the next year also will help the county determine its budget, a process beginning in February, commission Chairman Ron Cross said.

Sales tax collections had been steadily increasing until about four months ago. They went from $1,691,643 in April to $1,554,207 in May before falling again in June. In 2006, collections dropped from April to May but not from May to June.

Commissioners have already said that the 2006-10 sales tax program, approved by voters in July 2004, won't be enough to take care of all of the county's pressing needs. Officials are talking about asking voters by as early as next year to approve another sales tax program to run from 2011 to 2015.

Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 868-1222, ext. 115, or preston.sparks@augustachronicle.com.