In 2015, about half the state experienced negative growth in sales tax revenue, and Montgomery County had the state’s largest decrease.
The final sales tax revenue figures from 2015 were released by the state Association of Counties on Tuesday, and showed 30 of the state’s 62 counties had negative growth in sales tax receipts.
In other area counties, Albany, Fulton and Saratoga had increases. Schenectady County had a slight decrease and Schoharie County also saw a decrease.
Twenty-one counties had subtle growth between 0.01 and 2 percent, while just seven had an increase of 2.01 percent or more.
Ups and downs
The percentage increase or decrease in sales tax revenue for 2015:
Albany County 1.7
Schenectady County –0.1
Montgomery County –6.7
Fulton County 0.9
Schoharie County –5.8
Saratoga County 3.1
Source: NYS Department of Taxation and Finance
Steuben County had the highest growth in the state at 9.5 percent, while Montgomery County had the lowest at negative 6.7 percent.
“We expected to take a hit this year,” Matthew Ossenfort, the Montgomery County executive, said Tuesday. “We saw this coming and weren’t blind-sided by this, which puts us in a better position to handle it.”
The fall in the county’s sales tax revenue can be attributed to the year’s decreased fuel prices, and development on Route 30 leveling out, he said.
“In Amsterdam, the Route 30 corridor has grown over the past few years, and we’ve seen that level off,” he said. “We have two rest areas in the county, and one of the busiest exits as far as trucks go. We know much of our sales tax decrease can be contributed to the changes in fuel price, . . . which is half of what it was previously.”
Ossenfort said the dip in the county’s sales tax shows a need for economic development projects.
“We need to grow and expand our tax base, and with an aging population and struggling to keep young people here, it’s a challenge,” Ossenfort said. “The regional business park and the revitalization of the old Beech-Nut property on Exit 29 are big-ticket economic development projects that are important projects when looking at sales tax numbers.”
Ken Rose, the director of economic development and planning for Montgomery County, said there’s more to looking at the county’s economy than sales tax.
“The sales tax isn’t reflective on how the county is doing as a whole,” Rose said. “We’ve only had one retail closing, but another business came in and took its place.”
The Staples in Amsterdam closed shortly after New Year’s Day, he said, because the chain closed hundreds of retail stores nationally.
Harbor Freight Tools opened its Amsterdam location earlier this month, and will likely more than make up for the loss of Staples, according to Rose.
“I have a couple of private-sector nonretail projects I’m working on for the area I can’t discuss just yet,” he said. “As of right now, we’re pretty optimistic for this year as it stands.”
More than August
Elsewhere in the Capital Region, Saratoga County fared well with a sales tax percent increase of 3.1 from 2014 to 2015.
“We have a well-diversified economy in Saratoga,” Drew Jarosh, the Saratoga County treasurer, said Tuesday. “Between the high-tech industry in Malta and development in Wilton, we’re not just an August location.
“We haven’t put all our eggs in one basket anymore.”
In comparison to its geographical peers, Saratoga County is still doing well, the county treasurer said.
“Obviously, we’re doing something different, and it’s working for us,” Jarosh said. “We’re seeing it in the reliability of our sales tax numbers.”
Jarosh said for Saratoga’s smaller, neighboring counties like Montgomery, a small change in the dollar amount will have a significant impact.
“It’s hard to compare apples to apples here because different counties have different economies and retail,” Jarosh said. “Tourism drives a lot of what we have going on. . . . Our growth in other retail was able to make up for the decline in things like fuel sales tax that smaller areas don’t have.”
Montgomery County prepared for the declined sales tax by making a conservative sales tax estimate for its 2016 budget, Ossenfort said.
“That’s what makes this more bearable, or is the silver lining, if you will,” he said. “At this point, I don’t believe we’re going to have to adjust anything. We’ll have to frame our decisions around these new parameters, but it would be more concerning if this was our second year like this.”
Montgomery County saw a percent increase in sales tax over the past two years, with a 3.3 increase in 2013 and a 3.5 increase in 2014.
“We’re hoping and are optimistic we will bounce back in 2016,” Ossenfort said.