State shorts city, county, transit on sales tax

Sales tax receipts for June arrived with an unpleasant shock in Island County.

According to the state, Oak Harbor only generated $157,724.93 in receipts, but by City Finance Director Doug Merriman’s count, the figure should be closer to $247,000, which would be in-line with the city’s current upward trend in receipts.

Oak Harbor last received a payment in the $100,000s in 1997, according to Merriman.

“Quite honestly, that is not an appropriate number for us,” he said of the state’s June figure. “Obviously there’s an error in the state’s data.”

Local officials do not think the economy tanked so quickly that sales tax receipts could plummet so far.

Merriman looked at other nearby government bodies and found Oak Harbor wasn’t the only one with curious figures.

“It’s also mirrored in the other Island County entities,” he said, naming Island County and Island Transit as recipients of the state’s wonky June numbers. “Skagit County seems to be unaffected,” he said.

Elaine Marlow, Island County’s budget director, concurred.

The county received about $354,000 in sales tax receipts in June 2008; this year the June total arrived at approximately $270,000, she said.

“What concerns me is this is a huge variance in the normal pattern that we see,” Marlow said. “There’s been no major event that can explain why our receipt for June was so low.”

“This isn’t time to be shorting us on our payments,” Merriman said.

As of Wednesday afternoon Merriman had not received an answer from the Department of Revenue as to why Island County’s June sales tax receipts appear low.

Marlow is still searching for an answer to the puzzling numbers.

“I have contacted the Department of Revenue to see if they can enlighten us,” she said.

But her call to the Department of Revenue Wednesday morning and an email send Wednesday afternoon have gone unanswered as of Friday morning.

“In my experience with the Department of Revenue, it takes three or four days to get a response,” she said.

Department of Revenue officials were unable to provide the Whidbey News-Times with an answer, either.

Island Transit’s sales tax receipts were down by $100,000, according to transit director Martha Rose.

Meanwhile, there was good news to report on the sales tax front. Oak Harbor sales tax receipts are up, according to numbers from the Washington state Department of Revenue.

While January, February and March tax receipts were down, April and March receipts rose $4,008 and $14,717, respectively, over last year’s totals.

“It’s not a cause to celebrate and pop champagne, but at least we’re better than we thought we were,” Councilman Jim Palmer said.

Merriman agreed.

Oak Harbor budgeted for 7 percent below its 2007 levels in anticipation of a lean revenue stream this year, he said.

“But we’re doing about the same in revenue as last year,” Merriman said. “So I’m feeling pretty good.”

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