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Two Months Into Budget, City's Already $4 Mil Down on Guesstimated Sales Tax Income

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Perhaps you saw the story in the morning paper: According to the state comptroller's office, Dallas pulled in sales tax revenue totaling $14.5 million in November 2009. And while that's a considerable plunge from same-time-last-year's intake ($18.34 million), that's really not the number to focus on. You need instead to go back to City Manager Mary Suhm's memo to the mayor and council on December 10, in which she provides the guesstimated revenue for each month. Suhm wrote the memo to warn the council after October's sales tax receipts came in at $14,583,521 -- which was $2,691,438 lower than her forecasted $17,274,959 for October 2009.

For November '09, Suhm understood that November '08's intake, given a bump due to a comptroller's audit, was unrealistic this go-round, which is why she guesstimated sales tax revenues for November 2009 at $15,707,695. That's still $1.2 million more than the actual receipts for the month. And, if my math is anywhere near correct, that means two months into Suhm's budget, the city's already down $3.9 million, give or take.

Suhm is out of town, but First Assistant City Manager Ryan Evans tells Unfair Park this morning that, yes, those early numbers are "discouraging for us right now." But, he adds, it's too far to early to panic: "Remember, the drop-off in sales tax occurred in October, November last year. That's when it all started, so at some point in time we will rise above that drop-off. What we're hoping is, because it dropped consistently last year, we'll rise above it."

The city's budget office should have adjusted budget projections by next week, he says.

"And it's an average thing -- you can't look at one month," Evans says. "And we don't have the Christmas check, which won't come till five weeks from now, and what we're hearing from MasterCard and other folks is there was an uptick over Christmas checks. That's yet to be seen. But what's encouraging is we budgeted more for fuel than we need, given the drop in gas prices. Natural gas prices are down too, which means we're not paying as much for heating. There are flip sides to it as well. It should all come out in the wash."

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