By KEVIN CHIRI
Slidell news bureau
SLIDELL — The challenge for city officials handling an ever tightening Slidell financial situation appears to be growing more difficult, with year-end sales tax figures reflecting a declining economy here.
Slidell’s 2012 fiscal year sales tax numbers were officially $58,060 less than 2011, close to zero growth for the year in a $17.9 million budget.
But more concerning to officials is that the total for the year would have been a serious decline in revenue, had it not been for an audit in September that brought the city $118,137 more in revenue than September of the previous year. That gave the city an 8.15 increase for the month over 2011, and helped the year-end totals end with a .032 percent decline from 2011.
“The Sheriff’s Office audit brought money in for back taxes,” Slidell Council Administrator Tommy Reeves said about the unusually high September. “That was not the usual money we had for the month.”
Additionally, sales tax figures for the last eight months have shown declines in seven of those months, including higher declines in the last few months.
Sales tax revenue for June was 3.43 percent less than June of 2011, while May was 3.39 percent less than May of 2011. The city ended the 2012 fiscal year in June with five consecutive months of declines from the previous year.
Reeves said the 2013 budget as forecast by Finance Director Sharon Howes is for $17,912,000, counting on the zero growth to continue, but not expecting a decline.
Howes has been complimented for her conservative budgeting approach in recent years, and had the city with a 4 percent sales tax decline to start the 2012 year, before the early year numbers led Mayor Freddy Drennan to give city workers a raise.
Slidell officials have been dealing with the declining sales tax situation ever since the post Katrina years, when record revenue totals were posted.
The city brought in over $23 million in sales tax revenue in 2006, over a 30 percent increase from fiscal year 2005, before the storm.
But since that time, the city has seen sales tax numbers drop every year but one since the storm. In the past three years, revenue appears to have bottomed out and hovered near $18 million a year, something Howes is forecasting to continue for fiscal year 2013.
Sales tax revenue accounts for approximately half of Slidell’s operating capital for the year.