By TOM GIAMBRONI
LISBON - Significant increases in sales tax collections and casino tax revenue, coupled with spending reductions, resulted in a record $3.3 million year-end balance for Columbiana County's general fund.
"Yes, it was a very good year," county Auditor Nancy Milliken said of the balance, which was somewhat misleading since nearly $500,000 had to be taken off the top to cover bills carried over from 2013.
She reported the year-end balance broke the previous record of $2.2 million set in 2012, when county commissioners benefited from $3.2 million received for leasing county property for oil and gas development.
Milliken said the biggest reason for the record balance is the combined $2.2 million in additional revenue received from the county sales taxes and the state casino tax.
The two sales taxes - a 1 percent tax and a 0.5 percent permanent sales tax - generated a record $15.7 million in 2013, compared to $14.5 million the year before, which was a record. The sales taxes account for more than 60 percent of general fund revenue.
Meanwhile, casino tax revenue last year totaled $1.2 million, compared to $286,312 in 2012, the first year for the state casino tax, a portion of which is distributed to counties.
Spending was also down significantly last year, which contributed to the record balance. General fund expenditures totaled $21.3 million, down significantly from the record $23.8 million spent in 2012, which was inflated because commissioners spent $2 million of the oil and gas lease money.
Since the sales tax and casino tax are a direct reflection of people's spending habits, Milliken said these increases are a clear indication the economy has been slowly improving following the recession of the late 2000s.
"I think some of it has to do with the gas and oil, too," she said. "People here in the county have been able to spend more" because of money received for leasing their land for development.
Milliken lauded officeholders for again doing their part by not overspending, and they will be asked to keep a tight rein on spending because the economy could worsen again, forcing people to cut back on their spending.
"I think we have to hold the line on new spending because you don't know if the sales tax will stay up or if the casino tax will drop," she said.