Counties' revenues suffer nose dive

Counties' revenues suffer nose dive

November 5th, 2009 by Andy Johns in News

RINGGOLD, Ga. -- After months of creeping closer to normal, sales tax revenues in several North Georgia counties plummeted in the most recent reports.

Catoosa County Chief Financial Officer Carl Henson called the latest figures a "complete reversal" from the improvement he's seen over the last few months.

Sales tax revenues for September were down about 24 percent from August in Catoosa and Whitfield counties, and down 32 percent in Walker County, records show.

Revenue collections also were significantly below those for same period in 2008.

In Catoosa County, Mr. Henson said tax revenue was 14 percent shy of his conservative budget projections.

Whitfield County's October revenue was 20 percent lower than last year's and Dade's was down $53,000, or 30 percent, officials said.

"It just doesn't make sense that the floor would have dropped out that quick," said Whitfield County Finance Director Ron Hale.

"They said the other day on television the recession's over and I was like, 'Really?'" said Dade County Finance Officer Don Townsend.

Mr. Hale and Walker County CFO Greg McConnell said they hoped some of the shortfall might be a delay in tax processing at the state level, which could mean money would be added to next month's distribution.

Walker County's sales tax revenue has zoomed in some months and plunged in others, Mr. McConnell said. But he doesn't know why.

"I haven't found anybody who can give me an answer on that," he said.

Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue announced in October that net revenue collections for September were about down about $260 million, or 16 percent, when compared to September 2008.

Some county officials hoped car sales from the federal Cash for Clunkers program would boost revenues, but the money didn't come through in the amounts expected. Others blamed a slowdown in tourism late in the season and a lack of consumer confidence.

"It's been hard for us to see any trend at all," Mr. Townsend said.

Whitfield and Dade counties still are working on 2010 budgets, so officials there said they can replot the income. Catoosa and Walker already have set budgets, so they may have to make some changes just a few weeks into their fiscal years, officials said.

"It's going to make us look extremely hard at the budget," Mr. McConnell said.

Catoosa County revenue (2009 compared to 2008)

May: -22 percent

June: -12.5 percent

July: -10 percent

August: -6.7 percent

September: -24 percent

Source: Catoosa County Finance Office