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COVID-19’s effect

Sales taxes have remained steady, but lodging taxes cut in half

News Staff Writer

Despite the closing of all “non-essential” businesses as part of the Stay at Home Order issued in mid-March by Gov. Kay Ivey, the city of Atmore suffered only a minuscule drop in sales tax collections before the order morphed into a Safer at Home decree, and more businesses were allowed to reopen.
Lodging taxes were a different story, as official records show city coffers received during March, April and May less than half the amount collected during the same period in 2019.
“Nobody’s been traveling,” said Mayor Jim Staff of the drop in lodging taxes. “The COVID-19 has been rough on our economy. The drop in tax collections makes a difference in doing some of the stuff we’re wanting to do. The main thing we’ve got to do is pay our bills and our payroll, and we’ve been able to do that.”
The biggest drop in lodging taxes came in April. The amount collected by hotels and motels within the city decreased by 76 percent over 2019 figures. Lodging establishments sent just $18,159.55 to the city in April 2020, compared with $75,194.84 in April 2019.
Figures for March, when the Stay at Home Order was issued in mid-month, were also significantly lower than the previous year. In 2019, local lodging establishments collected $64,222.32 in city taxes. In March of this year, only $35,751.13 was collected.
Even in May, after restrictions had been lifted to a large degree, lodging taxes were nearly one-third lower than the previous year. May 2020 figures show that the city received $38,344.07; one year previously, the figure was $57,333.76.
Surprisingly, sales tax collections for the same three-month period in 2020 showed a net decline of less than $2,000 over 2019 figures.
March ($518,016.23) and April ($488,590.36) of this year saw a fairly dramatic drop below last year’s figures ($530,199.41 in March; $496,085.20 in April). But May’s sales tax collections exceeded 2019 totals by almost $18,000 and brought the three-month total ($1,590,243.39) to almost the level of the previous year, when $1,592,125.70 was collected.
Staff, who pointed out that sales tax collections have increased every year for the past five, said one of the keys to the negligible drop in sales tax collections was the spirit shown by downtown businesses, especially those considered non-essential.
“Our downtown merchants got it together,” the mayor said. “They couldn’t open their doors, but they had curbside service, online service and other things that showed what entrepreneurs they are.”
He also noted that city employees have been the key to getting through the pandemic, which included the loss of inmate labor that previously handled the bulk of the city’s streets and sanitation work.
“It’s amazing how loyal our city employees have been,” Staff said. “They have worked overtime, and they’ve worked Saturdays. They’ve all been pulling together, making this thing work.”
He added that city officials and citizens could consider themselves lucky that things haven’t gotten worse.
“This, too, shall pass,” he said of the pandemic. “We’re fortunate we didn’t take a bigger hit, but we’re going to make it. If we don’t, it won’t be the fault of anything but this virus.”