CAPITAL REGION -- Sales tax collections across upstate New York rose by the largest percentage in years over first half of 2018, including in most counties in the Capital Region.
Schenectady County, which saw local sales tax revenue drop 1.83 percent from the first half of 2017, was an exception. It was one of only three counties outside New York City to see a decrease in sales tax revenue, though the state comptroller's office said all three were negatively impacted by adjustments from previous years.
Statewide, the increase in local collections was 6 percent, according to state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, who issued the report Wednesday. That was a significant improvement from a 3.3 percent statewide growth rate in 2017, and 1.7 percent growth in 2016. The 6 percent boost was the largest since 2010.
Schenectady County officials said they were aware they would be seeing a significant negative adjustment in the first half of the year.
"There was a technical correction this year," said county spokesman Joe McQueen. "We were actually aware of it. Even though it's down a little, we anticipate we will be on-budget."
The county isn't provided details about the businesses or industries responsible for such adjustment, McQueen noted.
Last year, he added, Schenectady County experienced an 8 percent sales tax increase for the entire year -- one of the highest increases in the state.
"That had something to do with the (Rivers) casino, but also all the other things that are happening," he said.
Fulton County saw the biggest percentage increase in the region, at 14.67 percent. It collected $11.63 million between Jan. 1 and June 30, up from $9.9 million the year before.
County officials there did not respond to requests for comment, but state officials said a large one-time business purchase in Gloversville was a major factor in the boost.
Saratoga County experienced a 5.36 percent increase, with revenue growing from $56.7 million to $59.7 million. (That revenue is shared roughly equally with the county's towns, cities and villages.) The city of Saratoga Springs, which collects its sales tax separately, saw a 9.7 percent increase, to $5.5 million.
Saratoga Springs Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan said the city received a negative adjustment a year ago that makes this year's revenue look unusually large, but she believes the city's economic activity is good. Saratoga is now at the height of the summer tourism season.
"Yes, the city seems to be doing really well ... a little nervous about Kohl's (department store) going out of business, but I'd say things are good," Madigan said. "It's tough to say exactly, definitely, where we are; we might be flat, but we really came back strong last year in the second half."
The state report said low unemployment, wage growth, a 2.9 percent inflation rate and increased consumer confidence were all likely factors in the growth rate.
DiNapoli said the first-half numbers bode well for the second half of the year, but he also urged local officials to be careful not to make overly optimistic assumptions in their financial planning.
"The upcoming back-to-school and holiday shopping seasons may bolster what has already been a strong start to 2018," DiNapoli said. "But as history has proven, sales tax can be an unpredictable revenue source for our local governments."
Large one-time purchases can also influence the numbers, as was the case in Gloversville, which saw its sales tax rise 33.2 percent -- to $2.25 million -- from the single purchase by a Gloversville business in the first quarter, according to the comptroller's office.
DiNapoli's report said a major driver of the statewide increase, especially upstate, was gas prices. Revenue from gas sales rose 13.9 percent -- in large part, a reflection of gas prices, which have risen since a year ago. During the six-month period, they rose from an average of $2.56 per gallon to $2.89 per gallon, the report stated.
By the Numbers
Sales tax collections by region
Region First half of 2017 First half of 2018 Percent change (-)
Saratoga County $56,659,022 $59,694,084 5.36
Saratoga Springs $5,054,272 $5,543,429 9.68
Schenectady County $50,464,223 $49,542,076 (1.83)
Fulton County $9,906,649 $11,360,226 14.67
Gloversville $1,688,617 $2,249,616 33.22
Johnstown $1,838,614 $1,998,244 8.68
Hamilton County $1,303,779 $1,810,355 38.85
Montgomery County $14,287,829 $14,897,365 4.27
Schoharie County $7,158,705 $7,382,453 3.13
SOURCE: New York State Department of Taxation and Finance