Budget managers monitor coronavirus as Oklahoma City sales tax gains
Oklahoma City's budget director says City Hall executives are "paying close attention to the impact of COVID-19 on our financial situation."
According to the latest data, sales tax is up from this time last year, in contrast to statewide figures showing signs of a slowing economy.
But this week's numbers detail retail activity before coronavirus concerns deepened and financial markets went into a tailspin.
"We have the benefit of having built up strong operating reserves of over 21% in the general fund (the primary account for day-to-day operations) over the last several years," Doug Dowler, the budget director, said.
He said the cushion "allows us to respond to changes in our financial situation in a measured and responsible way."
Oklahoma City is receiving $36.1 million from the state Tax Commission this month, up 1.4% from March 2019.
Use tax increased 6.8%, to $6.3 million, a sign of online retail strength.
Statewide, though, sales tax revenue is down 3,4% from February 2019, the sixth consecutive decline, state Treasurer Randy McDaniel said last week.
Oklahoma City sales tax figures for March reflect retail activity the last two weeks of January and first two weeks of February.
The numbers could be read as confirmation that consumer sentiment remains modestly positive.
Results indicate a projected slowdown in the rate of growth through late winter and early spring remains likely.
Last month, sales revenue in Oklahoma City was up 4.1% over February 2019 after a 1.9% decline in January.
Projections for the last quarter of the fiscal year are for slowing growth and even declines in May and June.
Dowler said the March check "doesn’t change our outlook for how we will finish the current year or what we are projecting for next year."
City Manager Craig Freeman has directed most department heads to reduce general fund spending 2.25% from an adjusted base for 2020-21.
Police and fire were to propose budgets trimming 0.3%.
Some departments are looking at actual cuts.
Development Services (minus $325,000) and Parks and Recreation (minus $368,000) could be down while transit gets a modest increase, thanks in part to a higher streetcar subsidy.
Early budget plans show general fund spending increases of $2 million for the Police Department and $4 million for fire.