Greenville sales tax collections up substantially

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 14, 2005

After some lean years due to industry closures, high unemployment and sagging retail sales, the City of Greenville's bank account is looking much fatter these days.

Recently released sales tax numbers from the city clerk's office show the city has collected nearly $635,000 more in sales tax revenue through the first 10 months of the city's fiscal year than it did the same period the prior fiscal year, a 16 percent increase.

Greenville Mayor Dexter McLendon said the city's coffers are flowing green due to lower unemployment and a healthier retail environment including the addition of a Wal-Mart Supercenter, which the city helped make happen by funding access and assuming a lease agreement on Wal-Mart's old building to the tune of $207,000 per year.

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Before the Supercenter opened, McLendon said concerned residents told him it would deal a death blow to downtown merchants, but according to him, that hasn't happened. Instead, he says the mega store is drawing more people from surrounding counties who are spending money in other stores besides Wal-Mart and that more local people are shopping at home.

"This whole turnaround started five years ago when we knew we had to have more jobs to create more money circulating in Greenville," McLendon said. "But it doesn't do you any good if everybody takes their money and spends it in Montgomery. We had to spend money to get these companies to come to Greenville and the city is starting to recoup some of those expenses through the increased sales tax money those salaries are generating. People said the Wal-Mart was going to kill downtown Greenville, but it has helped it by keeping people in town."

Another factor in the increased cash flow is the city's sales tax rate of 9 percent, which was raised from 8 percent in 2003, McLendon says, to fund economic development.

A year ago McLendon said he hoped to be able to lower that back to 8 percent, but due to the city's inability in the past to fund infrastructure needs and provide needed maintenance to city buildings, he says that plan is on hold for now.

"My position right now is that we've got some catching up to do and we look at that situation every year, but for now the rate will stay at 9 percent," he said. "Our main thing is to get caught up on projects such as piping ditches where there are water problems, paving our streets and funding implementation of our comprehensive plan."

The city is currently in the midst of developing a more in-depth comprehensive plan that will address things such as access, ease of travel and better fire protection for what city officials see as a growing population.

"We've got to make plans for the future to continue this trend of economic development and invest money in infrastructure," McLendon said. "Because of the growth we're having, we're going to have to spend more money on things like police officers and other things so the city will be able to grow responsibly."

He said the new money also allows the city to be more philanthropic to organizations that are working to improve the quality of life for residents such as the YMCA and the Boy's and Girl's Club."

"So far everything we've done has worked, including increasing our sales tax," McLendon said.