Like other cities around the state, Emporia saw a surprising increase in sales tax revenues for June and started the 2021 fiscal year with a 2.9% increase over the previous year, despite the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic.
According to the Kansas Department of Revenue’s August report, which reflects mostly revenues from June, the City of Emporia brought in $395,463.23 in August — a 9.3% increase over Aug. 2019. The city ended the 2020 fiscal year, which ran from July 2018 - Aug. 2019, with $746,474.57. The 2021 fiscal year ended with $768,258.48 — 2.9% increase over 2019.
So far, the city is seeing an overall increase in sales tax revenues for the year, with numbers comparatively higher in most business sectors than 2019 — $1,567,767.68 in Aug. 2020 compared to $1,561,657.32 in Aug. 2019.
According to a report given to The Emporia Gazette by City of Emporia Finance Director Janet Harrouff, the building and home improvement industry has seen the largest growth over 2019, bringing in $90,183.94 in revenues from January - August 2020 compared to $79,383.45 from January - August 2019. The 13.61% increase could be attributed to stay-at-home orders keeping people in Emporia during the summer months.
“I think one of the primary factors is we had a lot of people stay home instead of vacationing,” said Emporia Main Street Executive Director Casey Woods. “When they stayed home instead of going to some of those vacation hot spots, we saw people doing some upgrades to their homes.”
Woods noted the number of building permits opened at the city.
The largest hit sectors have been hotels (-30.66%), liquor tax (-29.81%) and transient guest tax (-19.57%). With large events like the DK and Glass Blown Open, which traditionally bring in large numbers of visitors each year, being canceled due to the pandemic, Woods said the city did miss out on dollars from outside of the area.
“But, I think we saw higher business retention from individuals who stayed home,” he said.
Restaurants and bars saw a 3.48% decrease in sales tax revenues from 2019, bringing in $302,010.04 in August — just under $11,000 less than Aug. 2019. Woods attributed some of that impact, being perhaps a little less than expected, to creative ways to get the public back to businesses through curbside services or deliveries.
“We were able to find different ways to get businesses to open back up,” Woods said.
Woods said, many local business owners are feeling the continued pressure and are concerned that their businesses may not survive if the county or state goes into another shut down. Others are looking at other “what if” situations, concerning vaccines and other treatments.
“I think there are businesses that are doing what we’re preaching that is looking at things in sort of a short-term chunk and start with looking at your customer base and what it is today,” he said. “We’re viewing that as something it will be for the next couple of months. This is a little different in that businesses usually know what their goals and numbers are. What’s happening to our businesses now, is everything is completely out of their control. It’s all external. They’re all looking for a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Woods said community members can help out its small businesses by talking to elected officials about the importance of small business and entrepreneurs.
“If we can put that on the forefront of the political discussion, hopefully we can continue to offer different types of support as the pandemic proceeds,” he said. “And hopefully, we’ll see a resolution as soon as possible.”
Statewide, Kansas started the fiscal year by surpassing its total tax-only collections by $484.6 million compared to July of last fiscal year. Total tax collections for the first month of the fiscal year were $980.8 million. That was $4.6 million, or 0.5%, less than the estimate.