A councilor's recent comments about the effects of tourism on Auburn's economy made during a presentation on the local sales tax distribution formula may have been based on inaccurate figures, local officials claim.
At the Sept. 20 meeting of the Auburn City Council, Councilor Peter Ruzicka presented two complex charts of historical sales tax payments received by the county and city to help him make the case for a new method of dividing the monies between the two municipalities.
The first chart, Ruzicka said, showed that sales tax revenues between Sept. 2007 and Aug. 2012 have trended upward for the county, but have slightly decreased for the city.
The second chart contained a closer look at a line graph of five years of Auburn's month-to-month sales tax reports with the periods of June to September isolated for each year.
Ruzicka said the data was reported a month behind the actual purchase of products, but the troughs during those months demonstrate that local tourism efforts aren't paying off, and claims to the contrary are misleading.
"Those brackets show a pretty generous time period in which I would expect to increase the revenues if the tourism peak season had any positive effect on this trend line," the councilor said. "As you can see, all the way across this time period ... somehow or another, contrary to what we've been told, we don't see much improvement here."
Cayuga County Treasurer James Orman said the information used by Ruzicka, which was supplied by his office, is a good tool to gauge changes in sales tax collections across years, but the data is not reported uniformly from month to month.
"The sales are reported after they're collected, and things paid for electronically or with a check are reported at different times than things paid for with cash," Orman said. "You can't distinguish between months, because you can't really pinpoint exactly when things were purchased."
June and December are also "catch up periods" when business owners settle their books and report additional revenues to the state, Orman said.
Cayuga County Office of Tourism Director Meg Vanek said she was not familiar with the treasurer's reports used by Ruzicka, but said state-sponsored studies show an overall financial gain from tourism in the area.
"The tourism categories are up over the past few years countywide," Vanek said, noting that the state figures do not separate the county from the city. "If you're comparing spending within the city, to me it almost says there aren't enough opportunities within the city. People are still spending in Aurelius and Sennett."
A 2011 study released by the state on the economic impact of tourism shows $87,362,000 was spent last year on lodging, recreation, food and beverages, retail goods, transportation and second homes in Cayuga County by out-of-town travelers, up about 4.5 percent over 2010.
According to the study, local taxes collected from those tourism dollars likewise increased 4.5* percent in that year. From 2009 to 2010, local tourism sales tax collections increased 0.6 percent.
People in Cayuga County directly employed by the tourism industry increased in 2011 by 2.6 percent to 1,286.
"In the summertime, locals travel to other places and spend their money and people from out of town come here," Vanek said. "We want the visitors to fill in where the locals aren't spending."
* Eds note: This article originally cited a 2011 state tourism study showing a decrease in local taxes collected by 3.3 percent. That study, published on the state's tourism website, has since been updated to reflect a 4.5 percent increase in local taxes collected. The article has been updated to reflect that change.