Orange County is one of the richest counties in North Carolina in terms of per capita income, but we perennially rank near the bottom when it comes to retail sales and sales tax revenue.
But there are some indications that this may be starting to change: “Our taxable sales are now $1.47 billion,” said Aaron Nelson, president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, during his annual “State of the Community” report Thursday at the Friday Center.
According to numbers from the state Department of Revenue, taxable sales in Orange County topped a billion dollars for the first time in fiscal year 2011 and have risen steadily since – topping $1.4 billion in fiscal year 2014 and reaching nearly $1.5 billion in the last fiscal year. That led to a spike in sales tax revenue – breaking $70 million in the last fiscal year for the first time ever, up from just over $50 million three years ago.
That’s a big shift. In 2012, despite being no. 2 in the state in per capita income, Orange County ranked 81st in per capita sales tax revenue. But in 2013, just a year later, Orange County ranked 42nd – moving past Wake, Alamance, and Chatham in the process.
“So around our office there were double-high fives, there was chest bumping – it was really exciting,” Nelson said.
But he says that number is a bit deceiving – because it’s not all about greater retail sales. “The revenue went up because we added a half-cent tax and a quarter-cent tax,” he said – and those tax increases added to the spike, along with the actual increase in sales. (Together, Orange County collected about $9.2 million from the half-cent and quarter-cent taxes in fiscal year 2015 – accounting for a little less than half of the $20 million increase in revenue from fiscal year 2012.)
Still, Nelson says the change is a promising sign that Orange County is making progress on an issue that’s troubled local policymakers and business leaders for many years – even if the issue still remains.
We’ll have many more numbers from Nelson’s State of the Community address on WCHL and Chapelboro.com in the coming days.