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Nassau County Comptroller’s Report: March 20, 2014

County’s Economic Good News And Bad News

Sales tax revenue is the County’s biggest source of income, accounting for over 40 percent of total annual revenues. Sales tax is also a good barometer of the County’s economic activity and economic health. Therefore, it is gratifying that the final sales tax figures for 2013 show an increase of 6.3 percent to $1.13 billion over the prior year. This was on top of another healthy increase of 4.2 percent in 2012.

These sales tax growth figures would seem to imply that Nassau County has recovered well from the recession and Superstorm Sandy, and in fact it has, with unemployment now under five percent, well below the national and state averages.

Yet, some worrisome signs appeared towards the end of 2013. The sales tax revenue during the holiday shopping season declined an astounding 12.4 percent when compared to the same period in 2012. This local tapering off at year end is especially concerning because nationwide retail sales were up 0.2 percent and the national economy grew by 2.4 percent.

The question that arose was whether our local economy was slowing more than the national average or were there other factors at play? One factor accounting for the significant drop in sales tax receipts towards year-end may have been a shift in consumer shopping habits from brick-and-mortar stores to online, which reduced the amount of sales tax revenue. The latest U.S. Census Bureau statistics project online sales to have increased 12.5 percent for 2013 through the third quarter, tripling since 2004. Another factor for the drop-off in holiday sales tax receipts may also be due in part to flat income growth for consumers; income grew only .25 percent in November and not at all in December.  

At first glance, the combination of flat income growth and the shift from brick-and-mortar stores to online appeared especially troubling to Nassau County as well as other municipalities which rely heavily on sales tax revenues and local consumer spending to generate jobs. However, a recent federal court decision requiring online vendors such as Amazon to collect and submit sales tax now appears to have provided a huge boost to sales tax revenues, up about 9.7 percent in the January-February period. These were sales that were not taxed previous to 2014. This trend is now anticipated to provide higher sales tax revenues in 2014 than the two-percent growth projected in the County’s 2014 budget.

The bad news is that the accelerating shift to online sales will mean potentially lower sales going forward for brick-and-mortar stores and fewer local jobs at retail stores. Additionally, the absence of income growth will further dampen sales and jobs, not only in retail, but all the sectors of our economy. Our local economy may have to adjust to the new realities, and policymakers should continue to strive to create good-paying jobs in other sectors, especially in the growing technology, bio-sciences and health care industries.

News

The Raise The Roof Concert, held at Christ Church on Nov. 9, was an intergenerational event to benefit the Life Enrichment Center of Oyster Bay’s seniors.

Board member Suzanne Paolucci explained the center’s wish to get iPods for the seniors as a source of musical therapy. She brought the idea to the center from a talk by social worker Dan Cohen, the founder of Music & Memory. He has produced a film, Alive Inside, that tells the story of music as being restorative. Music is like therapy for the elderly, in particular for those with dementia, as it has been shown to awaken memories of happier times in life, when energy and enthusiasm were boundless.

Driving rain and an early start time did not deter 600 people who arrived at Crest Hollow Country Club recently to celebrate the Women’s Fund of Long Island’s 20th year and to honor four exceptional women.

The breakfast started with a meet and greet and a chance to showcase Women’s Fund contest winner Patti Hogarty, designer of “Women as Bamboo.” Inspired by her neighbor’s bamboo, she entered the contest drawing a design of the bamboo, which Ambalu Jewelers of Roslyn then turned into various pendants of which 40-percent of the profits would go to WFLI. Hogarty wrote a short essay comparing women to bamboo in that they are strong and can weather difficult storms, yet remain graceful and continue to grow sending out new shoots.


Sports

On the weekend of Nov. 8, the Oyster Bay High School Boys and Girls Cross Country teams traveled to the State University of New York at Canton just a few miles from the Canadian border to compete in the New York State Cross Country Championships.

Alex Tosi became the first Bayman since Joe Jazwinski and Justin Nakrin (2008) to become All-State, placing 16th with a time of 16:53. Most runners ran about 20 seconds slower than their Bethpage times because of the muddy conditions on the course. Tosi’s time was basically equivalent to his best Bethpage time, as he powered through the toughest parts of the race. He led the Baymen to a seventh place finish in the Class C race, an improvement from their 11th place finish last year, which ties the highest place at the New York State Championships of a Baymen team since 2009.

In the history of Oyster Bay High School athletics, no one has ever won a Girls’ Tennis New York State Championship. Celeste Matute and Courtney Kowalsky became the first when they won the 2014 New York State Doubles Championship in Latham on Nov. 3. What makes this tremendous achievement even more remarkable is that Matute is a junior and Kowalsky is a sophomore.

The girls, who are usually singles players, teamed up to take on the very best players in Nassau County and New York State. They won all 10 matches in the section XIII and NYSPHSAA tournaments and left Latham as the 2014 New York State doubles champions.


Calendar

Annual Turkey Trot

Thursday, Nov. 27

Turkey Detox Workshop

Friday, Nov. 28

East Norwich Holiday

Sunday, Nov. 30



Columns

1959: The Year The Music Stopped Playing
Written by Michael A. Miller, mmillercolumn@gmail.com

The Eccentric Heiress Of ‘Empty Mansions’
Written by Mike Barry, MFBarry@optonline.net

Yellow Margarine And A Pitch For The Ages
Written by Michael A. Miller, mmillercolumn@gmail.com