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By CARL SMITH
Starkville recorded its highest February sales tax return on record since 2000, a feat which city officials say signals continued local economic improvement despite a less-than-ideal state and national outlook.
Tax figures released by the city show Starkville received $479,482.34 for the month, beating the former February high of $432,510.76 recorded last year. The almost-$47,000 gain is a 10.86 percent increase from February 2011â€™s numbers. Last monthâ€™s figure also beat Januaryâ€™s return by over $47,000.
In 2011, Starkville accumulated $826,480.87 in sales tax returns for the first two calendar months. 2012â€™s figures are currently outpacing last yearâ€™s numbers by approximately $73,000 in the same time window.
Starkville collected $5.45 million in sales tax revenues in 2011, beating previous 2010â€™s tally by over $134,000. The city averaged $454,264.50 per month in sales tax collection last year.
Starkville also collected more from Februaryâ€™s 2 percent food and beverage tax collections than the previous month. The city collected $132,705.98 from the 2 percent allocation in February, beating Januaryâ€™s near-$100,000 collection. Since 2010, the city has recorded only one month below $100,000 2 percent sales tax revenue. Januaryâ€™s returns cleared the same mark by $132.
Last monthâ€™s 2 percent sales tax numbers also represent the highest February returns on record since 2000. The second highest February total was recorded in 2009.
Although Februaryâ€™s numbers grew compared to the previous month, the city is down approximately $9,000 for the first two calendar months compared to 2011â€™s returns. Starkville collected approximately $241,000 in the two-month time window last year, compared to only $232,837.98 this year. In 2011, the city collected $1.48 million in 2 percent tax, beating 2010â€™s returns by almost $100,000. Starkville averaged almost $124,000 per month in 2 percent collection last year.
Jennifer Gregory, Greater Starkville Development Partnership Vice President for Tourism and Chief Operating Officer, said the sales tax and 2 percent food and beverage tax trends show a steady increase which reflects an influx of out-of-town shoppers and diners. To continue the growth, she said the city needs to continue marketing itself as the go-to place for a unique shopping and dining experience.
â€śStarkville is continuing to grow, and we have more stores and restaurants for those who travel to town. People who visit Starkville are feeling the progressive nature that is taking hold in the community,â€ť she said. â€śThe quality-of-life element adds so much to the equation. Even down to the lights installed on Main Street buildings and the new plants on the street, (visitors) get a special feeling about this place.â€ť
Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas said the city has enjoyed its continued sales tax success while many others around the state have seen their returns dwindle.
â€śPeople do not pay much attention to that, unfortunately. I think thereâ€™s a story in our ability to continue to grow when so many people have not been able to,â€ť he said. â€śI think itâ€™s also a definite testimony to the universityâ€™s success and to the success of our community.â€ť
Board polices such as the legalization of Sunday alcohol sales, Dumas said, have contributed to the overall growth of the 2 percent food and beverage tax.
â€śAny restaurant you talk to thatâ€™s open now on Sunday will tell you the benefits of Sunday alcohol sales. Go downtown on Sunday and you wonâ€™t see anymore open spaces. People are spending money downtown and eating even if theyâ€™re not drinking. The sheer fact they can eat at a restaurant open on Sunday because of (legal alcohol sales) is telling,â€ť he said. â€śA simple policy decision can go a long way in generating the quality-of-life aspects that help grow a tax base.â€ť