Sales tax shows steady growth
By PRESTON GILL
After a slow start in 2013, St. Mary Parish’s billion dollar economy is experiencing steady growth according to figures released by the St. Mary Sales and Use Tax Department on Wednesday.
Sales tax collections through the first half of the year approached $21.3 million, which translates into more than a billion dollars of goods and services subject to sales tax over the course of the year if the figures remain constant.
Fueled by three consecutive months of increases, the second quarter tax collections were up 7.4 percent over the same period last year. The quarter began with a collection of nearly $3.9 million, which was a 6.1 percent increase in tax revenues over April 2012. May and June continued with increased tax revenues of 8.5 and 7.8 percent, respectively.
These figures show the St. Mary Parish economy is doing better than last year and is on track to meet the budgeted 3-percent increase, according to Jeffery LaGrange, director of the parish Sales and Use Tax Department.
“I have always said that a good slow steady growth is best,” LaGrange said.
Sales tax collections were down 3 percent in the first quarter of the year, largely due to a 10-percent dip in January sales tax numbers.
“Industry is working in the parish,” LaGrange said. “Everyone seems to have plenty of work.”
Through the first half of the year, with a 2.2 percent increase over the first half of 2012, tax collections remain lower than the budgeted 3-percent increase. With the strong showing in the second quarter, LaGrange expects to reach a 3-percent or greater growth for the year.
The oil and gas industry is doing well, he said. With the exception of McDermott International talking of shutting down, all the area shipyards are busy taking in new and working on existing orders, according to LaGrange.
McDermott recently reduced its work force at its Morgan City fabrication facility and continues to keep its future plans open in Morgan City, according to St. Mary Parish economic director Frank Fink. Nothing has been definitively decided, he said. The company indicated to him that it anticipates steady work through the end of the year and he expects a stable workforce at least through most of the summer.
McDermott will close its New Orleans engineering office in October.
If any jobs are cut at McDermott, Fink said there are other companies in the oil and gas industry ready to pick up the slack. Conrad Shipyard has swelled its employment to 1,200 workers, its highest ever according to Fink, and they continue to hire workers. That was one example which Fink said is indicative of hiring throughout the parish.
Fink and LaGrange agree that the tax numbers and the willingness of industry to continue to hire workers bode well for the area.
“There is a lot of work going on in the shipyards,” LaGrange said. “From the people I have spoken with, I think it should last the next several years.”
Fink said that the net amount of jobs slightly increased last month even while unemployment figures edged upward, which continues a three-month trend. Despite that trend, Fink remains optimistic regarding the St. Mary Parish economy and employment.
St. Mary Parish’s unemployment rate was 7.6 percent in May, up from April’s 6.9 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The parish started the year with 8-percent unemployment in January and then dropped to 6.2 in February. Unemployment rose to 6.7 percent in March.
Last month’s figures are slightly better than a year ago. St. Mary Parish had an unemployment rate of 7.7 percent in May 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
There were 21,647 people employed and 1,777 unemployed in St. Mary Parish in May. Both of those figures are slight improvements over last year. In May 2012, there were 21,570 people employed and 1,795 unemployed.
Statewide unemployment stood at 7 percent last month.