Cash registers in Eau Claire County saw $101.5 million more last year than they did in 2017.
The local economy had about $2.2 billion in taxable sales during 2018, a 4.8 percent increase over the prior year, according to a county report released Friday.
“The fact that consumer spending remains on a growth trajectory through the end of 2018 indicates at least at this point in time the Eau Claire economy remains very strong,” said Professor Thomas Kemp, chairman of UW-Eau Claire’s economics department.
That indicates that consumers have income to spend now and feel relatively good about their financial future as well, he noted.
Last year’s sales did start out with a fast pace, crossing the $1 billion mark during June — much faster than any previous year.
If that momentum had kept up, sales could’ve been 11 percent higher last year. But the pace for the second half of 2018 slowed down and about matched sales seen in the last six months of 2017.
Taxable sales include retail goods, automobiles, restaurant food and some services including cable TV and internet access.
Kemp said he’s cautiously optimistic that growth from recent years will continue for Eau Claire this year.
“I kind of expect that trend to continue,” he said.
He noted Eau Claire’s job market includes many jobs in retail and construction, which can be subject to economic downturns. But he added the medical, education and professional services sectors also account for a significant portion of the area’s employment and are less sensitive to changes in the economy.
“The sectors we have in Eau Claire are relatively well-suited to weather economic storms,” he said.
Eau Claire County, like most counties in the state, charges a 0.5 percent sales tax on top of the 5 percent charged by the state government.
James Dunning, vice chairman of the county’s Finance and Budget Committee, noted the rising sales do help the county while it’s subject to state-imposed limits on how much it can increase its property tax levy.
“It does help us make up for what we can’t do on the levy,” he said.
The county collected about $11 million in revenue from its 0.5 percent sales tax last year. That’s $933,555 more than the county anticipated for 2018, a surplus that will go toward future county projects or to make up for deficits that arise in other parts of the budget.
The county has seen a surplus in sales taxes for the past nine years, even as it has increased its expectations for them in its annual budgets. The last deficit from sales taxes happened in 2009, when the county came up $753,000 short due to the recession.