County sales tax revenue up from last year

“We also clearly recognize that some sectors are not doing as well as others”

By Katherine Nettles

Gunnison County finance director Linda Nienhueser reviewed the latest sales tax revenue and Local Marketing District reports with county commissioners on August 18, and the numbers look surprisingly good, considering a worldwide pandemic and abbreviated spring and summer seasons.

Sales tax revenue for the year as of the end of June was up 5.68 percent.

“I think we’re just all pleasantly surprised that sales tax is doing as well as it is,” said Nienhueser.

Nienhueser and the commissioners also looked in more detail at the industries that are stagnant or behind from previous years.

“Our overall tax collection is strong, considering where we’re at,” said commissioner Jonathan Houck. “That being said, we also clearly recognize that some sectors are not doing as well as others. So some are outperforming where they were in 2019, but some are underperforming.”

He specified that restaurants, bars, lodging and services such as salons and massage therapists have seen major challenges due to occupancy limitations.

“While we look at a big sales tax picture, we also dig into these individual categories and industry and clearly understand that the overall picture includes some other details,” continued Houck. “There are still some sectors that are still being challenged by their restrictions and limitations of the public health response.

“Being the third most infected county in the United States per capita when [COVID] broke out and being able to gain the ground we have,” Houck said, he never envisioned back in April that the financial numbers would be as stable as they look now.

Commissioner Roland Mason pointed out that online sales have accounted for a lot of the “makeup” of overall sales. County manager Matthew Birnie said that online sales tax revenue is a fairly new tax in general, so there isn’t much past data with which to compare.

Houck discussed unemployment rates as another metric that “paints the picture” of overall economic health. The county unemployment rate is just over 10 percent, which is lower than many surrounding mountain communities whose unemployment rates are anywhere from 12 percent to 17 percent but consistent with national averages.

“I think it shows that a strong public health response actually becomes a mechanism to be able to address the economic piece. We’ve got places to go—but as a community we are in a better place than we anticipated we would be.”

Houck emphasized his belief that the county must continue to manage the public health side of things to continue helping the economics.

Clean audit of financials

On the heels of the sales tax discussion came a presentation from Paul Backes of the firm McMahn and Associates, LLC, who performed a recent audit of Gunnison County’s financials.

Gunnison County is one of two or three counties across Colorado that did not file for a tax extension, and which filed all its paperwork on time, he said, “which, in 2020, has been almost unprecedented.”

Backes also praised the county for clean record keeping and ending fund balances each year.

“Auditors do not usually say anything nice but I’m going to break that rule and compliment you on your finance team,” he said.

The firm’s overall recommendations for improvement were to segregate duties for certain areas such as that of treasurer and public trustee, so no one person can perform all transaction duties such as writing, signing and processing a check. The same goes for payroll responsibilities. Nienhueser said the county is working toward that goal.

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