While other Alabama municipalities were digging pennies out from behind the proverbial sofa cushions between 2008 and 2009, Oxford enjoyed extra income from business license fees, property taxes and sales taxes.
According to Oxford’s 2009 fiscal year audit, the city’s property tax revenue increased by $405,278 from the previous year due to the rise of property values and new construction in the city.
The city’s business license fees jumped by $95,515 and totaled more than $3 million for 2009.
All other local taxes increased from more than $23.96 million in 2008 to about $24.2 million in 2009.
The economic recession began in 2008.
Oxford’s figures come as no surprise to Gadsden finance director Lisa Rosser.
“They are taking a whole lot more commercial revenue than we could begin to take in, even though we may be a little bigger,” Rosser said.
According to 2009 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, the city of Gadsden has a population of around 36,719 while Oxford has a population of around 20,800.
In contrast to Oxford, Gadsden’s property tax revenue rose only 0.2 percent between 2008 and 2009 and business license fee revenue rose 0.8 percent.
Sales tax revenue in Gadsden dropped by 2 percent from 2008 to 2009.
The key to Oxford’s fiscal success is due to the city taking full advantage of nearby Interstate 20.
“Location is everything,” Rosser said.
In the decades since the completion of I-20 through Oxford in the mid-1970s, the city has experienced nearly continuous growth in business, population and revenue and has become a driving economic engine of the county. The increased traffic from I-20 led to an expansion of Quintard Mall in the 1980s, construction of a Walmart Supercenter in the late 1980s and the opening of the Oxford Exchange shopping center about six years ago.
Efforts Wednesday to reach city officials were unsuccessful.
Oxford’s success stands in stark contrast to the situation experienced by what was once the county’s industrial-based center of commerce, the city of Anniston.
Anniston Finance Director Danny McCullars said the recession is still in force in his city. McCullars said Anniston’s sales tax revenue dropped by $725,000 between 2008 and 2009. He added that 2010’s tax revenue will likely be up just 1 percent from last year.
“We’re going to hold water in 2010 with 2009,” McCullars said.
Property tax revenue for Anniston decreased by nearly $66,000 between 2008 and 2009, however, business license fees increased by $125,000. McCullars said the business license sum increased while that of the sales tax decreased because unlike Oxford, Anniston is not a retail-heavy city.
“We have retail here, but we have a lot of other things, like medical and manufacturing,” McCullars said.
In the city of Dothan, which has a population of more than 65,000 and, like Oxford, is also a transportation and commercial hub for the state, the recession was still a challenge.
Dothan Finance Director Angela Palmer said her city’s sales tax revenue had increased about 5.5 percent per year for many years until the recession hit. Between 2007 and 2008, revenue increased by just 1.35 percent and between 2008 and 2009, revenue decreased by 4.86 percent. She noted the decline would have been much worse had the city not approved a 1-cent sales tax in 2007 before the recession struck.
“When other cities were really hurt we hurt, but not as bad,” Palmer said.
Palmer said, however, that business license fees have held steady and that sales tax revenue has begun to improve this year.
“The city of Dothan is seeing a gradual increase in sales tax for the last two months,” Palmer said. “That doesn’t create a trend, but it looks promising.”
The city of Florence, which has a population of approximately 36,700, did not do as well as Oxford, but it did not do that badly either.
Florence Treasurer Dan Barger said the city’s business license fees dropped about $2,000, which is a less than 1 percent decrease. The city’s property tax revenue increased by 0.4 percent. Sales tax revenue increased by an average of 1 percent.
“We are fortunate … we have weathered well through the recession,” Barger said. “We are fortunate that our industry is diverse and we are a retail hub.”
Star staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561.