County relying more on sales tax money

By Andy Winemiller -

DOBSON — A recent revaluation of property provided little gain in revenue for the county and its four municipalities. However, sales tax revenues continue to climb.

“Overall, things aren’t perfect,” said Surry County Economic Development Partnership (EDP) President Todd Tucker. “Things are getting better though.”

Tucker explained the economy hasn’t returned to the “booming” days of decades past, but the increases are a good sign for the local economy — a sign that retail stores, restaurants and other businesses are doing well.

“We are a consumer society,” noted Tucker. “We buy things. Eventually that trickles down.”

Tucker also said Surry County has seen “a little bit of wage growth” throughout the course of the past couple of years, a phenomenon which could be both a factor in the increased sales tax revenues and a result of increased sales.

Based on a spreadsheet provided by county Finance Officer Sarah Bowen, the area began to see its comeback from a catastrophic recession during the 2010-11 fiscal year. In that year, the county played witness to an increase in sales tax revenues of more than 8 percent above the year prior.

Since then, sales tax revenues have continued to climb for the county. In the 2016-17 fiscal year, $16,475,000 in sales tax revenues are projected to account for more than 22 percent of the county’s overall $74.5 million budget. The figure is calculated at 96 percent of actual projected revenues, and is $1.6 million more than what was budgeted in the fiscal year that ended Thursday.

The sales tax revenues provide a much needed boost to the county’s budget, said Commissioner Larry Phillips, who is an EDP board member. They are also a positive sign for a county which saw its manufacturing base dissipate years ago.

“We are blessed with our geographic location,” said Phillips, who went on to say people from Virginia do much of their shopping in Surry County. That, coupled with a growing tourism industry, has helped “diversify” the county’s economy.

“I think pre-recession we had all our eggs in one basket,” remarked Phillips.

The commissioner then went on to describe sales tax revenues as “critical” for the county. Until the county fully recovers and people begin investing in real estate again, sales tax will remain the only portion of the county’s revenues which grow.

That stated, Phillips warned sales tax revenues can be “volatile.” Another economic downturn could cut deeply into the new area of revenue growth.

According to Bowen, the state collects all sales tax revenues and distributes those revenues to the state’s 100 counties on a point-of-sale basis. The county’s municipalities receive two percent of those revenues, a number which is divided among Surry County’s four municipalities based on population.

Due to its small population, Dobson Town Manager said his town gets the short end of the stick considering much business is conducted every day in the county seat. However, he also said sales tax revenues coming in $30,000 above what was budgeted in the current year is a welcomed surprise.

The $410,000 in sales tax revenue the town is projected to collect in the current fiscal year accounts for nearly 30 percent of the town’s annual revenues.

Like Phillips and other officials, Smith said the steadily growing figures from year to year are a positive sign, noting he has seen sales tax revenues rise every year since he took his position with the town six years ago.

“It’s probably a good indicator of economic success,” noted Smith.

By Andy Winemiller

Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.

Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.

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