CHEYENNE – After a rough start to this decade, growing sales tax collections statewide and in Laramie County indicate the economy finally may have rebounded.
Sales tax collections in Laramie County grew 18.3 percent in fiscal year 2014 compared to the prior year, according to a report by the Wyoming Economic Analysis Division.
Experts say this trend has continued into the first half of the current fiscal year.
Sales tax collections statewide were up nearly 9 percent last fiscal year, totaling $1.1 billion. This is the first time in Wyoming’s history that the collections have topped the $1 billion mark.
This total does not reflect optional fifth- and sixth-penny sales tax proceeds, which are not collected by all counties.
Laramie County collected a total of more than $126 million in sales tax revenue last fiscal year, including fifth- and sixth-penny collections.
In many counties, these increases were driven mainly by purchases related to oil and mineral exploration, state economist Wenlin Liu wrote in the Economic Analysis Division report.
“Wyoming’s pivotal industry, mining (including oil and gas extraction), increased 17.6 percent, and it attributed to 40 percent of all sales and use tax growth in fiscal year 2014,” the report says.
But in Laramie County, sales tax collection increases are not driven by the oil and mineral industries.
“The biggest sales tax collecting subsector (here) is automobile sales,” Dick O’Gara said.
O’Gara is a local economist and director of the Wyoming Center for Business and Economic Analysis.
Local vehicle sales were up considerably in fiscal year 2014 and continue to rise this fiscal year, he said.
Laramie County Treasurer Trudy Eisele, who oversees auto sales tax collections, confirmed this.
Car sales have been “high for most of 2014,” she said.
O’Gara said sales tax collections for electronics and appliances are up 65 percent this calendar year over last.
He credits this with the uptick in sales of expensive electronic equipment to several large computer data centers in the county.
Residential home construction material sales in Laramie County also are up — a whopping 353 percent since 2013, O’Gara said.
And it’s not only major purchases that are driving the sales tax collection growth, O’Gara said. Sales at local bars and restaurants are up this year.
“There’s no question that people are feeling better about the economy and going out to eat and drink more often,” he said. “These are indications of increased employment, new jobs and higher incomes.”
O’Gara said growing sales tax collection figures are one statistic “in a long list of pieces of data that suggest we are in a mini-boom.”
Increased sales tax collections are making life easier for local governments, which rely heavily on this money to fund projects and operations.
Said Eisele, “The increase in sales tax revenues makes for a happy time here. We are sitting pretty good here.
“It’s nice for Laramie County to have little bit of a cushion and not have to pinch every penny. And it’s better to have the trend going up, of course, than to have everything all doom and gloom.”
Mayor Rick Kaysen added, “There is an increase in positive numbers across the board. This allows us to have additional dollars to put back into our infrastructure and other agencies that receive (sales tax) funding.”