Holiday shoppers nationwide hit the stores in droves during December, but spending in much of Greater Waco remained stuck in neutral, according to figures released Wednesday by the Texas Comptroller’s Office.
The city of Waco received a sales tax rebate totaling $4.14 million, which likely is the largest rebate it will collect all year. But it represents a modest 1.2 percent increase from the $4.09 million received in February last year.
Rebates received in February reflect sales in December that are reported to the Comptroller’s Office in January. The comptroller sent $912 million in rebates to cities, counties and special taxing districts, a 6.2 percent increase from last year, according to a press release from the office.
Spending has been tepid locally for months, Amarillo-based economist Karr Ingham reported. Outlays during the fourth quarter of 2017 were “essentially flat” compared to those during the same period in 2016, Ingham wrote in his monthly economic snapshot prepared for the First National Bank of Central Texas and the Tribune-Herald.
“The 2017 annual total is a record, but is up by only 0.5 percent compared to a year ago,” he said.
Total retail spending for 2017 totaled $3.47 billion, Ingham said.
“General spending growth flattened in the last two years on the heels of strong growth the previous three years,” Ingham said.
Ingham analyzes sales taxes for Waco, Bellmead, Beverly Hills, Hewitt, Lacy Lakeview, Lorena, McGregor, Robinson, West and Woodway.
The city of Hewitt apparently escaped the malaise, helped by the opening of a new Walmart Supercenter in late January of last year.
It received rebates totaling $267,407 for December, a 35.8 percent jump from the $196,850 refund it collected in February of last year.
“I obviously would think Walmart is responsible for most of that,” said Hewitt City Manager Adam Miles. “I remember driving by the store on Black Friday, and the parking lot was absolutely packed. And I understand it remained that way for much of the holiday shopping season.”
This is only the second month the store has met Hewitt leaders’ predictions for a $50,000 to $100,000 monthly boost to its sales tax rebates.
Miles said the city last year overestimated the impact the Walmart store would have on sales tax rebates “because we had never had one.”
So far during the current budget year, overall sales tax revenue is exceeding updated projections.
A new Cefco convenience store at Hewitt Drive and Ritchie Road should further improve numbers, as could a new Cracker Barrel restaurant to be built on a Walmart outparcel near Interstate 35 and Sun Valley Boulevard.
“We have received final plans for Cracker Barrel, and we probably will see earth moving in a couple of months,” Miles said.
Hewitt, like most communities, places sales tax rebates in its general fund to support police and fire services, street work and park maintenance.
Elsewhere around Waco, the cities of Bellmead, Beverly Hills, Lorena, Lacy Lakeview, McGregor and West received rebates eclipsing those of February 2016. The cities of Robinson and Woodway suffered declines.