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Spokane County sales tax numbers show signs of ‘recessionary times’

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(The Center Square) – With the remaining six months of the year bringing in the lion’s share of tax revenues, numbers could change, but signs of an economic slowdown were apparent throughout the County Commissioners’ tax briefing Monday.

In a presentation to the Spokane County Board of Commissioners Monday, Sr. Director of Finance & Administration Randy Bischoff and Management & Budget Analyst II Jason Metcalf went over the projected sales tax numbers for 2023 as they stand midway through the year.

“June sales tax was definitely better than May’s sales tax, so that was nice. Not fantastic, but I didn’t get nearly as nervous this time about talking in front of [the Board of Commissioners],” joked Metcalf to open the meeting.

The month of June brought in $6.1 million in sales tax revenue in Spokane County, lagging only $13k behind the same month a year before.

The update brings the county’s year-to-date sales tax revenue to $36.1 million, an increase of $734k from the same point a year ago.

The projection is still in the red if the year continues on the same trajectory.

“If we trend how we’re trending now at the 2.1% year-over-year growth, we’ll be about a million under budget. If we trend how we did last month, which is about -0.2%, we’ll be about two million under budget,” said Metcalf citing future projections based on previous years numbers.

He went on to say the county typically collects only 46% of their projected sales tax dollars for the year in the first half.

Residential and nonresidential construction were both trending between the 2021 and 2022 numbers. An outlier was used vehicle sales, which was down 8% year to date and below both 2021 and 2022 sales figures. The “Auto Repair and Maintenance” category saw an increase of 19% year to date.

“The cost for auto services has jumped up about 25% year over year, that’s a big part, and people are holding on to their cars longer so people are spending more money on [repairs],” said Metcalf.

“And typically, as you start going into recessionary times, people will repair versus buy new. Again, even though it’s positive that it’s going up, it’s a negative from the standpoint of looking to the future,” added Finance Director Bischoff.

Metcalf noted that other motor vehicle dealers’ sales have dropped significantly.

The category for Boats, RV’s and ATV’s was down 20% year to date and roughly 40% compared to the same point the year prior.

“Reflecting discretionary dollars available to buy the boat and the RV,” added Commissioner Al French, going on to comment that high fuel prices may be contributing to poor recreational vehicle sales.

Retail Trade and Home Centers tax revenues were also roughly $2.5k behind 2022 and $18.5k behind 2021’s numbers at this point in the year.

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