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Tax collections rise, along with spending, in Sampson

Chris Berendt Staff Writer

January 9, 2014

Tax collections are up in Sampson County through the first six months in 2013-14 and, with plenty of debt service and budgets as tight as ever, every extra dollar will be welcome so as not to drain county accounts before the next budget cycle.


Finance Officer David Clack warned against the prospect of overspending as he provided a status report on the county budget at the six-month mark to the Sampson Board of Commissioners earlier this week. Along with scheduling monthly budget sessions, the midpoint report was a mandate implemented by the board last year.


“We had requested that we get a half-year snapshot, where we stand at the halfway point,” said board chairman Jefferson Strickland.


Clack said numbers looked good, with tax collection figures thus far this year showing an increase over those in 2012-13.


Tax collections are up through Dec. 31, 2013 as compared to those numbers at the same point in last fiscal year’s budget. According to numbers provided by Clack, there was $32,645,787 in ad valorem taxes budgeted for this year, of which $23,982,303 has been collected, or nearly 73.5 percent. Through Dec. 31, 2012, of the $31,432,571 budgeted, $22,713,661 had been collected, or nearly 72.3 percent.


Even though more tax revenues were budgeted, collections have not only remained consistent but improved, to the tune of $1,268,542, up 1.2 percent.


“The resulting increase in cash collected can best be attributed to the fact that we’re probably doing a little bit better in collections, getting money in sooner. The Tax and Tag program, where the state collects the motor vehicle billings, is going apparently very well, and people are paying (vehicle tax) while they pay their registration.”


That new state collection system for motor vehicle taxes would equate to between two and four extra months of those tax payments being received during the 2013-14 year than in the usual fiscal year timeframe, Clack noted.


“When we did the budget we estimated that we would collect in total around $714,000 more in taxes because we’re billing four extra months. I think we’re well on our way to making our budget, just from the fact that we’re collecting 1.2 percent more than what we had this time last year.”


Sales tax revenues are falling in line with last year’s figures through six months, with the amount of revenues slightly higher.


Of a budgeted figure a shade over $7 million for this year’s budget, $1,750,438 has been collected, compared to $1,725,259 collected of a budgeted $6.94 million last year. That is an increase of $25,179 in sales tax revenues.


In total revenues through Dec. 31, taking into account not only sales taxes and property taxes, but also sales and services, permits and fees, state and federal grants, rental fees and other miscellaneous monies, the county has taken in roughly $34.6 million of a budgeted $64.56 million, or 53.6 percent. Those are increases from the $32.5 million collected of a budgeted $60.98 million, or 53.3 percent, through the first six months in 2012-13.


“So, to date, we’ve collected over $2.1 million more in revenues than we did last year,” Clack noted.


Every bit of additional revenue will help, as revenues have exceeded expenditures by about $3.5 million through six months this year — that is down from $5.9 million at the same point last year. According to Clack’s numbers, the county has spent 45 percent of its nearly $70 million budget as of Dec. 31, where it had spent less than 43 percent of its $67.8 million budget last year.


“We have spent a couple million more dollars through this year than what we spent last year,” said Clack.


He pointed to $600,000 in new annual debt stemming from the construction of Roseboro Elementary School, a significant chunk of the additional funds spent. Clack said he believed the county was in good shape, but could very easily expend the entire budget. It has historically left 3 percent of the budget in the hopper for the next year.


“Based on the fact we’re at 45 percent now, as long as we don’t start spending lapsed salaries and things like that on other things, we’re going to be on track … but I don’t know that we’ll finish 3 percent under like we have been,” said Clack. “Usually we can take your $70 million budget, take 3 percent off that and keep that as a cushion. Well, we’re using that cushion up by the way we’re going through budgets.”


If budgeting continues as it did last year, the county’s standard operating procedure of spending 97 percent of its budget will soon go to 100 percent, taking any fund balance appropriated with it and evaporating the county savings.


“That’s one of the biggest things,” said Clack. “We did get the (tax revenue) windfall this year, but we won’t know until later this year how much our collection rate is going to be enhanced.”


Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at cberendt@civitasmedia.com.