Quarterly sales tax revenue jumps up in Langley

It appears this seaside village can really buck a trend, and turn a buck.

Taxable retail sales in the city of 1,100 went up in the first three months of the year by about the same amount as the rest of the state’s went down, according to figures released last week by the state Department of Revenue.

Langley showed taxable retail sales of $7,618,306, a 12.87-percent increase over the $6,749,429 listed for the first quarter of 2008, the department said.

Statewide, taxable retail sales declined 12.8 percent to $23.2 billion during the first quarter of 2009 compared to the first quarter of 2008.

“We’re pleased and surprised,” said Langley City Councilman Robert Gilman, who has been tracking the economic pulse of the city with chart and graphs. “I’m not sure it will last, but so far it’s been pretty good.”

Island County’s other cities also fared better than the state. Coupeville’s taxable retail sales dropped 4.25 percent to $7,672,743. Oak Harbor’s actually increased 1.53 percent to $77,712,938, the report said.

Island County itself dropped 1.55 percent in the first quarter, from 179,786,873 in 2008 to $177,009,108 this year.

Taxable retail sales includes all retail trade, as well as other industries such as services, logging and construction.

For retail trade only, Langley also showed a first-quarter increase of 6.48 percent, $2,593,615 to last year’s $2,435,864. There was a statewide drop in the same category of 11.9 percent, to $10 billion.

Retail trade in Coupeville dropped 0.66 percent to $2,488,727, and dropped

5.75 percent in Oak Harbor to $39,078,650. Island County retail trade dropped 6.22 percent to $66,703,532 for the quarter, the report said.

“The mix in town is continually shifting,” Gilman said of Langley. “We have a lot of people whose businesses are doing well, but it’s not across the board.”

He said the city budgeted $303,000 in sales-tax revenue for this year, and if the record-setting pace of the first quarter continues, revenue could be as much as $341,000.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if it starts going down,” Gilman said. “But we could be at least second highest of all the other years.”

He said the poor economy may actually be benefiting Langley by attracting Puget Sound visitors who might otherwise go farther from home.

For perspective, however, City Clerk-Treasurer Debbie Mahler said recently that while sales-tax revenue is up, hotel-motel-tax revenue is down.

“It shows people are visiting, but they’re not staying overnight,” Mahler told the city council at a recent meeting.

“Langley’s economy is much more diverse than people realize,” Gilman said, “and we’d be happy to have it even more diverse.

“Nobody’s the least bit complacent,” he added. “City government is definitely paying attention to what happens.”

Among the largest industries statewide, retail sales from construction dropped 20.4 percent for the first quarter to $4.3 billion; motor vehicles and parts dropped 23.3 percent to $2.1 billion; accommodations and food services dropped 5.1 percent to $2.4 billion; and general merchandise stores declined 0.9 percent to $1.5 billion, the revenue department report said.

The retail component of wholesale trade declined 18.3 percent to $1.8 billion,

miscellaneous retailers dropped 12.2 percent to $1.3 billion, information services dropped 0.7 percent to $1.2 billion, and building materials, garden equipment and supplies dropped 21.2 percent to $851 million, the department said.