Still hoping for a rebound; new stores, increased business reasons for optimism

A CC’s Coffeehouse, Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt and Verizon store, currently under construction at the corner of La. 70 and Elm Street in Morgan City, are among some of the new stores set to open soon in St. Mary Parish. Contractor Sidney Roy hopes the businesses will be open before May 1. The strip mall has room for a total of six tenants, but others haven’t yet been confirmed. (The Daily Review/Zachary Fitzgerald)

By ZACHARY FITZGERALD zfitzgerald@daily-review.com

St. Mary Parish sales and use tax collections dipped slightly to start the new year, but the parish sales tax director expects a gradual improvement to start soon.

Parish officials collected $4.09 million in sales tax in January, a 2.8 percent drop from the $4.21 million collected in January 2016. Excluding collections from audits, collections decreased just 0.5 percent, according to the monthly report.

Officials collected $13,662 as a result of financial audits in January, while $12,096 was collected from audits in the same month of 2016.

“I think that our economy has pretty well gone about as low as we can tolerate,” St. Mary Parish Sales and Use Tax Director Jeff LaGrange said. “It does look as though there is lots of optimism in the air for 2017.”

Some industries have begun to pick up work, while other industries have started importing goods and products into the parish for future projects. Another bright spot is that some new retail establishments are being built, he said.

“I certainly think that we will see some rebound soon, although I anticipate this to be a slow and steady progression,” LaGrange said.

In September 2016, the parish saw the first bright spot in sales tax collections in a long time after snapping a 22-month streak of continuously declining monthly collections compared to the same month of the prior year with a 7 percent increase that month, and 1 percent increase excluding collections from audits.

The parish’s hotel tax brought in $33,467 in January, down 16.4 percent from January 2016’s collections of $40,043.

Morgan City’s road royalty sales tax had net collections of $141,678 during January. The 2016 total collected on the road tax was $829,918.

In 2016, the parish collected $35.24 million in sales and use taxes in 2016, about a 9 percent drop from the $38.83 collected in 2015. Hotel sales tax collections saw a steeper drop off in 2016, declining 24.2 percent, going from $668,487 in 2015 to $506,775 last year.

Carrie Stansbury, executive director of the Cajun Coast Visitors and Convention Bureau, said hotel stays in the area are starting to pick up a little as hotel customers’ business improves. The bureau promotes tourism in St. Mary Parish.

Parish Economic Development Director Frank Fink said in January that industry forecasters are predicting the price of oil will reach $60 to $65 per barrel by the end of 2017 because the world economy is expected to follow the U.S. economy’s pickup in activity, thus increasing demand for oil.

December’s collections totaled $2.69 million, a 2.9 percent decrease from the $2.77 million collected in December 2015. Collections decreased 6.5 percent, not counting audit collections.

The parish’s unemployment rate in December was 8.8 percent, a slight increase from November’s unemployment rate of 8.7 percent, and a greater rise from December 2015’s rate of 7 percent.

On the positive side, the unemployment rate has dropped from the 10.1 percent St. Mary Parish saw in June. However, the parish’s workforce, which is sum of employed residents and those looking for work, decreased from 24,086 in June to 21,325 in December.

Each quarter of 2016 saw a decline in parish sales tax collections.

First-quarter collections totaled $9.45 mil-lion, a decrease of 13 percent compared to the $10.86 million collected in 2015’s first quarter.

Second-quarter collections totaled $8.82 mil-lion, down 9.3 percent from the $9.72 million collected in 2015’s second quarter.

Third-quarter collections came in at $8.71 million, an 8 percent drop from $9.46 million collected in 2015’s third quarter.

In the fourth quarter, officials collected $8.27 million in sales taxes, a 5.9 percent drop from the $8.78 million collected during 2015’s fourth quarter.

The following occupational licenses were collected in January: city of Morgan City, $144,330; St. Mary Parish, $76,250; city of Franklin, $46,171; town of Berwick, $14,610; city of Patterson, $14,465; and town of Baldwin, $7,485.

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