Financial Reports Show Payson Sales Languishing

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Seems like it’s never gonna end.

That’s the impression left by the latest languishing sales figures in Payson’s monthly financial status report.

That impression was buttressed when the federal government this month revised Arizona’s unemployment figures upward — subtracting an estimated 40,000 jobs.

As a result, economists put the state’s January unemployment rate at 9.6 percent. Gila County’s unemployment rate generally runs about 1 percent higher than the state rate, although the report didn’t provide county-by-county breakdowns.

The revision boosted the state’s rates from near 9 percent to more than 10 percent for recent months.

That means that the state’s rate actually remained above 10 percent for the full year — a bit worse than the national average. Previous figures suggested Arizona’s rate had remained about half a percent below the national average for much of the year.

The January report showed the state’s economy lost about 46,000 jobs as retailers shed employees brought on for the Christmas shopping season. Federal economists weren’t sure how to account for the change, with estimates based on both monthly household surveys and corporate tax data.

Based on the revised numbers, economists now say Arizona might not regain all the jobs lost in the recession until 2014.

Rim Country reflected those lackluster figures, according to the town’s monthly financial report.

Overall, sales in Payson have barely budged in the past year, according to the February tracking report.

Granted, building permits have picked up sharply from last year — up a heartening 50 percent.

And sales tax revenue related to construction rose 16 percent in January this year compared to the same period last year.

However, the $30,000 in construction sales taxes in January represents less than a third of $92,000 in construction sales taxes in January of 2009 before the recession took hold.

Overall, sales tax revenue for the current fiscal year came in about 24 percent lower than in the last boom year, which was in fiscal 2008-09.

Most revenue sources for the town have remained stagnant — or dropped, even from last year’s not-very-healthy numbers. Among the changes for the July-February period:

• State-shared gas tax: Down $136,000 to $681,000

• Vehicle license tax: Down $18,000 to $473,000

• State-shared income tax: Down $140,000 to $860,000

• Local sales tax: Up $9,000 to $3.3 million

• State-shared sales tax: Up $14,000 to $474,000

All told, the town has so far collected $6.9 million in revenues rather than the $8.8 million it forecast.

Much of the shortfall comes in the form of federal grants the town didn’t receive — including a $140,000 grant that would have helped staff the third fire station. Generally, the town doesn’t spend any of that grant money until it’s stashed in the bank.

It proved hard to get much of a lift even from the uneven sales figures broken down by category — which reflect January, not February sales.

Overall, that breakdown by category reflected a 24-percent drop for the current fiscal year compared to the same period last year.

Many categories reported small declines from a year ago, including retail trade, restaurants, accommodations and entertainment.

On the other hand, construction showed a healthy gain and other sectors showed modest gains, including transportation, communications, wholesale trade, manufacturing, real estate and services.

One of the most worrisome declines showed up in accommodations — a 20-percent drop to $18,000 despite an increase in the bed tax last August that resulted in a higher tax per rented room.

Overall, the town’s departments have managed to cope with the sluggish flow of money into the coffers.

The water department’s collections from its bills remained on target — about $2.7 million for the July-February period. However, the department didn’t collect a hoped-for $1.8 million grant to help the Tonto Apache Tribe build a wastewater treatment facility and collected only $1.4 million of the $5.4 million projected for the C.C. Cragin pipeline development fund — mostly missed grants and uncollected water impact fees due to the building slowdown.

Overall, the town’s departments included in the general fund have spent $7.5 million so far this fiscal year — although they were originally budgeted to spend $9.5 million at this point in the year.

The largest savings have come from the two most expensive departments — police and fire.

The police department remains about 19 percent under budget, with total expenditures so far in this fiscal year set at $2.6 million.

The department has several unfilled positions left vacant after firings for misconduct.

The fire department remains a whopping 23 percent under budget, with total spending of $1.7 million for the year.

In part, that reflects the failure of the town to land a $140,000 federal grant to help staff the newly opened third fire station.

The grant would have helped provide three firefighters per shift, which would require actually hiring nine firefighters — a cost to the town of close to $1 million when including salaries and benefits.

Instead, the town has stretched existing staff to put a crew on the third fire truck — cutting staffing to two firefighters per truck for many shifts and relying more heavily on low-cost, partially volunteer firefighters.

Every single town department remains at least slightly under budget according to the February tracking report.

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