Psychotic Interludes and Sales Tax

The other day I exited the bookstore on the Mill Road side and crossed the street to my car. As I was making my way toward my car, I noticed a man with his dog, standing in the shade of the gazebo, staring in my direction. I am fully aware that I am a rather odd sight, toting my personal bag, my laptop bag, my lunch pail, and all my Peninsula Pulse/Door County Living folders, so I didn’t really think anything of his stare.

With all my paraphernalia loaded into the front seat on the passenger side, I closed the car door and paused to look at the man’s dog. As I started to move around the car to depart, the man suddenly said, “Hey, didn’t I read something by you today in one of the publications? Something like the Pulse?”

So he wasn’t staring at all the rigmarole encumbering me as I crossed the street! “You probably did,” I replied, as I turned and walked over to join him in the shade.

“I write a column for the Pulse,” I continued.

“Yeah,” the man said, looking at me more closely as I scratched his dog’s ears. “Something about a fish bowl and a cartoon?”

Funky Winkerbean. And my ‘fishbowl’ is right there,” I said, pointing to the bookstore.

“Right. So were you having some sort of psychosis when you were writing that? I mean, it was kind of interesting but …” and he trailed off.

“Well, I think I’m more prone to unsettling flashbacks,” I replied. “But no one really knows that they’re psychotic when they’re being psychotic, so who knows.”

He looked at me as I reached down to give his dog a pat and headed toward my car. “Thanks for reading,” I called out over my shoulder.

This brief interaction led me to consider the possibility that my recent columns may be causing alarm among our tourists. Thus, I decided to avoid any possibility of my writings being considered “psychotic” episodes and turned my attention to Door County’s sales tax revenue this year.

As you all know, I try to regularly report the county sales tax numbers in this column. These figures derive from that half-percent sales tax Door County (and most other counties in Wisconsin) charge. Merchants, innkeepers, restaurateurs, etc. collect this tax and submit it to the state (along with the state sales tax of 5 percent) and the state then redistributes the county tax portion back to the appropriate county. These distributions can be found – broken down by county – on the Wisconsin Department of Revenue’s website.

One of the things that is important to keep in mind when you look at these distributions is that the total for any month reflects exactly what was collected during the previous month. Each individual merchant (or innkeeper, or restaurant owner, etc.) may have differing deadlines for when the tax is due to be paid (i.e. monthly, quarterly, etc.). Thus, comparing January 2013 to January 2012, for instance, doesn’t provide any clear indication of an individual county’s economic health.

Looking at a broader picture of county sales tax collections, however, can provide at least some indication of the economic health of a county.

Last year I was pleased to report an increase in Door County’s sales tax revenue of three percent. While that may seem modest, keep in mind the slow rate of growth in the national economy last year and that it represented the second consecutive growth year over year. Additionally, in a very small, largely insulated economy such as Door County’s, increases and decreases can have far reaching implications.

Well, folks, the time has come to see how we are doing through the first six months of 2013. As the table below shows, we are slightly down from last year, but very slightly. Indeed, the $3,603.99 decrease translates to just 3/10 of one percent. And this, in turn, means that approximately $720,800 (.005x = 3,603.99) less has been spent in the county this year compared to last year.

When you stop to consider the prolonged cold and wet period we endured during the late winter and early spring period this year and the damper that placed on tourism, we are doing pretty well this year. And, a 3/10 of one percent decrease can easily be made up in the next sixth months.