SCOTTSBLUFF — Monthly sales tax revenues for the City of Scottsbluff are a sign of encouragement for city officials.
City Manager Nathan Johnson said the June sales tax collections for the city (which run two months in arrears) were up $31,530 when comparing fiscal year 2019 against fiscal year 2018, this coming after several months of negative numbers. Year-to-date, however, the city’s sales tax revenues are still down 1.8% compared to last year, or approximately $100,000.
Johnson credits at least part of the increase to new entities in the Monument Mall and, to an extent, the new grocery pickup service at Walmart. While food items are currently not taxed, Johnson said those customers are buying additional items that are taxable. He said customers have come from locations including Chadron, Kimball, northern Colorado and Torrington, Wyoming, to use the service.
“A lot of our sales tax collection comes as spring and summer come up,” Johnson said. “I’ve talked to several retailers and it looks like sales are finally coming back up to where they need to be.”
The East Overland revitalization project has provided a sizable return on investment, according to Johnson. While the city has invested more than $250,000 in the project, improvements along the corridor have resulted in approximately $1.3 million in return to the properties. The city is looking at additional grants in the future.
“It really reflects the progress and how the property owners have taken the opportunity and run with it,” Johnson said, crediting the community and the steering committee for driving the effort forward.
While the one-month sales tax revenue increase is helpful, there are many challenges facing the city as it looks to its budget.
“We have to try to look at ways to diversify our general fund revenues,” Johnson said. “We have been in the mode of cutting for many years, and I personally don’t think that there’s anything left to cut.”
The city is currently negotiating with the public works union as another 35 city employees will become union workers. With the current 30 members of the police department union and 15 members of the fire department union, close to 60% of the city’s employees will be unionized. The employees at city hall, the library and the parks department will soon be the only non-union city employees. The public works, police and fire contracts are all currently being negotiated. Johnson said part of the process is trying to stagger the number of years on the contracts so that all three do not come up together on every cycle.
The city has not filled a number of positions as employee attrition creates openings. Instead, the staff has been asked to take on additional responsibilities and “do more with less,” according to Johnson.
“Of course, we also have to be cognizant of asking our people to do more, but not being able to pay them more,” he said. “We really need to be proactive and figure out ways we can best position ourselves.”
Several community businesses are working with Tax Increment Financing funds to build new businesses or make changes to their current operation. High Plains Budweiser, Aulick’s and Platte Valley Bank are among the existing businesses. Scooters Coffee is in the process of building a new location at Avenue I and West Overland.
“We’re trying to leverage the tools that a local municipality has to encourage development,” Johnson said. “We have to try to foster growth with the tools that we have available. Instead of government getting in the way, how can we help the people. How do we encourage them to do great things?”