County reporting positive economic trends through May

Tourism on Siesta Key has contributed to higher Sarasota County income than financial officials had projected through May. Photo by Norman Schimmel

Sarasota County’s May economic data shows revenue from the tourist development tax was up 31.6% over the amount budgeted, while the income from the half-cent sales tax was up 15.7%, according to figures released by the Office of Financial Planning.

Interim Chief Financial Planning Officer Steve Botelho pointed out in an email to the county commissioners that the tourist development tax revenue year-to-date was up 19% over the budgeted amount, totaling almost $9.6 million.

The combined revenue from the half-cent sales tax, the communications service tax, state revenue sharing income and the Florida Power & Light Co. franchise fees paid to the county totaled $5,134,515 in May, up 7.1% from the budgeted figure of $4,792,067.

Data for the fiscal year-to-date shows county revenue from those taxes is up 2.3% over the budgeted income level. Add in the revenue from the infrastructure surtax and tourist tax, and the total is up 5.1% for the fiscal year.

Additionally, utility revenue was up 17.5% for May and 8% so far for the 2012 fiscal year.

The only negative section of the May economic report involved the gas tax revenue, which was 3.9% below the budgeted amount. For the fiscal year-to-date, however, the figure is down only 3.2%.

On June 25, the commissioners received more positive economic news, with county Building Official Greg Yantorno reporting that commercial permit applications received from April 9 through June 1 involved projects totaling $4,424,780.

Among those projects are a 14,000-square-foot shell building to be constructed by Benderson Development at 215 N. Cattlemen Road, for its University Town Center project; and renovations at Sun-N-Fun RV Center at 7125 Fruitville Road, the Out-of-Door Academy at 5950 Deer Drive and Paddy Wagon Irish Pub at 3877 Clark Road.

County data also showed a 40.5% increase in building permits for single-family homes from May 2011 to May 2012, with the total value of construction up 17.3%, to $9,776,000.

Residential broker sales for houses and condominiums were up 7.3% from May 2012 compared to May 2011 with the average days on the market down 16.2% year-to-year, to 176 days, according to statistics from the Sarasota Association of Realtors. However, the median price had dropped 3.2%, from $188,875 in May 2011 to $182,875 in May this year.

Looking at the overall statistics, commission Chairwoman Christine Robinson told The Sarasota News Leader, “I’m really pleased.”

She also pointed out that retail sales in the county were up 8% from April 2011 to April this year, the latest month for which those statistics were available, and hotel/motel revenue was up 6.6% year-over-year for the same month.

“We have some great economic signs here,” Robinson said.

The permitting news was very encouraging, too, she said, “especially considering it’s summertime.”

The only really negative report was for the gas tax revenue, Robinson pointed out. Although that represents the smallest part of the county’s pool for road resurfacing funds, she said, “we always want to keep an eye on that.”

Robinson reiterated a concern she voiced during the commission’s budget workshops in mid-June — that the county, especially South County, has a great need for road resurfacing projects.

Impact fees and surtax revenue make up the larger share of funds for the road projects, Robinson said.

Commissioner Nora Patterson, who said during the recent budget meetings that the county should continue on a conservative spending course, told the News Leader the fact that the half-cent sales tax revenue was up 6.9% year-to-date was “good news, but I would cautiously express optimism.”

She was keeping an eye on revenue and spending projections through the 2017 fiscal year, Patterson added. By that fiscal year, she said, projections still showed “a pretty substantial gap between what the county will be making and what the county will be spending.”

Noting that Commissioner Jon Thaxton will be leaving the commission at the end of this year, after three terms, and that she would be giving up her seat when her fourth term ends in 2014, Patterson said, “I am still concerned that we leave the county in good financial condition.”

Siesta leading in tourist tax collections

Data from the Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office shows Siesta Key with the greatest share of tourist development tax revenue by location this fiscal year, through April, the last month for which figures have been reported.

The island had collected about $2.869 million so far, giving it 30.12% of the total. The city of Sarasota was in second place, at $2.856 million, or 29.86% of the share.

Sarasota County was in third place, with $1.568 million in tourist tax revenue, or 16.46%.

The fiscal year began Oct. 1, 2011.

Siesta Key was well ahead of Sarasota with its March collections — at the height of season — the figures show.

Siesta reported collecting revenue of $827,406.77 in March, compared to $690,963.10 for the city. However, Sarasota surged past Siesta in April, with a total of $469,833.95, compared to $439,348.97 for Siesta.

Those April figures could change, though, as reporting locations are permitted to update figures as they receive new information about their collections, the Tax Collector’s Office has pointed out.