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Santa Maria’s fourth-quarter financial report noted increases in key revenue sources like sales and property taxes, as well as a regionally high poverty rate — which local officials hope to address by attracting businesses with higher-paying jobs. 

Covering the period from June 2018 to May 2019, the report — prepared by Finance Director Mary Harvey — shows sales tax receipts are up approximately 7.4%, or $1.69 million, compared to the last fiscal year. 

The Enos Ranch development contributed to the growth of tax revenue in the general consumer goods and restaurant categories. However, the last six months of the year shows a decrease in sales tax in most industry categories. 

While property tax also produced higher revenues compared to the 2017-18 fiscal year, there was a drop in the amount of money raised through hotel/bed tax.

Property tax revenue grew by around $931,300 year-over-year, an increase of 4.9%.   

Around $3.45 million was collected through the hotel/bed tax — roughly $66,000 less than received at the same time the previous year, and $125,000 less than what was projected for the year. 

The decrease is due to an increase in hotels in neighboring communities and because fewer first responders and evacuees occupied hotel rooms, according to Harvey.

Measure U revenues amounted to $6.7 million, a 36% increase over the $4.98 million that was projected. The increase reflects the increase from a quarter-cent to one-cent rate, that went into effect April 1. 

Though important local government revenue sources are up, Santa Maria faces broad economic challenges, Harvey wrote. 

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Locally, Santa Maria’s continues to have a regionally high poverty rate despite the city’s low unemployment rate, which sits at 4.4%. 

The statewide poverty rate is 13.3% compared to a citywide 18.6%. 

The economic challenges facing Santa Marians include the lack of high-paying jobs and the absence of affordable housing options, Harvey wrote, adding that the city and Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce are attempting to attract businesses and higher-paying jobs.

The A.T. Still University campus, which is scheduled to open in June 2020 in the new CoastHills corporate headquarters, is an example of progress cited by city officials in their quest to promote the growth of more lucrative employment options in the city.    

Upon its opening, the campus is expected to welcome around 100 students for its physician assistant program. 

Other businesses that have recently moved or expanded to Santa Maria include dental supply company PREAT Corporation and the software firm Auspient. 

The four-quarter report comes amid fears that the economy could be headed for a recession, which would likely mean a decrease in sales tax revenues, which account for around a third of the city’s general fund. 

Last week, the stock market suffered its worst day of 2019 after the yield curve inverted. 

An inverted yield curve, regarded as a strong predictor of economic downturn, refers to when longer-term interest rates fall below shorter-term rates in the bond market.

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Razi Syed covers Santa Maria City Government for Lee Central Coast Newspapers.  Follow him on Twitter @razisyed

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City Government

Razi Syed covers city government for the Santa Maria Times. He is a graduate of Fresno State University and New York University.