While numbers are down statewide, Catoosa County, Georgia., has 'best month ever' financially

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With tourism and retail largely continuing to feel the financial fallout from the novel coronavirus, sales tax revenue is down about 6% statewide, but not in Catoosa County, according to Chief Financial Officer Carol Roberts.

In her most recent report to the Board of Commissioners, she reported that local option sales tax collections are actually up nearly 6% when compared to last year.

"Carol thought we'd be down but we had our best month ever," Commission Chair Steven Henry told the board during their July 7 meeting.

The collection for June, which comes from May receipts, was roughly $95,000 more than the month prior and $88,000 more than last year's June total, said Roberts.

"Probably the biggest hit would've been in like Savannah, for instance, because of hotels and restaurants," she said of the statewide trend. "Fortunately for Catoosa County, we only have a few hotels. We're not really a destination, necessarily, for a vacation; we're a large retail [market]."

County Public Information Officer John Pless said Catoosa is in a unique position due to its concentration of big box retailers - most of which were deemed "essential" even amid widespread closures - including Costco, Aldi, Home Depot and Lowe's.

"Catoosa County is in a very unique situation because we're a border community to Chattanooga. We've been fortunate in that we have some of the major big box retailers that are right at the border, especially to Hamilton County, where you will pay lower taxes, especially on food," he said, adding that a visit to the parking lot will confirm the appeal with residents outside of the county as evidenced by the various license plates.

Roberts, who has been director of finance for a little over a year, gave credit to former longtime director Carl Henson for the county's strong financial footing.

"There was no preparation. This thing hit us like everyone one else, like a ton of bricks," Pless said. "Coming out of the holidays, no one thought the economy was going to crash because of COVID."

Moving forward, the plan is to keep budgeting conservatively, though the county has a "very healthy" reserve fund, he said.

"We are seeing a spike in infections locally, so I think there are a lot of unknowns," said Pless. "Moving forward, our strategy is cautious optimism."

Whether that could also include a more diverse sales tax base also remains to be seen.

"We are going through the process now where we're doing some long-term community planning for Catoosa County - growth, industry recruitment, that sort of thing - so I think there are things along those terms," Pless said.

Contact Jennifer Bardoner at jbardoner@timesfreepress.com.