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Occupancy, meals tax revenues feeding off construction projects

All the figures are not in quite yet, but the Town of South Boston is benefiting economically from ongoing construction at the South Boston Energy Plant and the Maple Avenue Wastewater Treatment Plant.

That’s how final revenue figures for fiscal year 2012-13 are trending with one month of reporting left.

Occupancy and meals tax revenues have been feeding off construction of the South Boston Energy Plant and Maple Avenue Wastewater Treatment Plant projects, with both well over estimated budget totals with one month of reporting remaining.

Occupancy tax revenues have already exceeded budgeted totals, as have meals tax revenues, courtesy of a number of restaurants and mobile food businesses serving customers throughout the town.

Business owners in South Boston seem to be paying their taxes on time as well, with business license tax collections already exceeding budgeted amounts.

Personal property tax collections have exceeded budgeted amounts, and real estate tax collections were on the verge as of May 31.

In a challenging economic climate, that’s good news, according to Town Finance Officer Erle Scott.

“All of the selected general fund revenues exceeded 100 percent except one, and that’s good,” Scott said.

“The only one that didn’t exceed was real estate, and that was at 98 percent, so that’s pretty good. I’ve always said the people of South Boston do the very best they can to pay their taxes and pay them on time,” he added. “I think that’s always been a positive for South Boston.”

Out-of-town workers laboring on the new energy plant and wastewater treatment plant expansion need places to stay, and they have to eat, with corresponding bumps in occupancy tax revenues and meals tax revenues, said Scott.

“I think South Boston is somewhat of a hub for people who come to shop here, and they eat while they’re here,” he continued.

“There’re not too many towns the size of South Boston with two of the same fast food places, and a United States highway (U.S. 501) comes right through the middle of town.

“You can’t hang your hat on it, but I think that’s the only thing that’s changed the past couple of years to change that type of income increase,” Scott explained. “I hope that trend continues. We’ll have to wait and see.”

One of the things town staff and officials have tried to do in the past several years is budget conservatively, and that also has helped in the final tally, according to Scott.

“We try and not stretch it unless we think we can make that goal, and there’s no reason to put a goal up there you know you can’t reach,” Scott pointed out.

“We’ve also budgeted enough to do what we need to do to have services for the taxpayers, and we don’t carry an exceedingly large fund balance compared to some towns.”

Business license tax collections have exceeded their goals the past couple of years, and with those amounts based on each business’ yearly revenues that’s also a positive, Scott added.

“I think that has a lot to say about the economy around town,” he explained.

“It seems to me the Town of South Boston is pretty stable.  It’s managed to find its way through the ups and downs and has some stability.”

An aggressive stance on delinquent tax collections has resulted in that line item also exceeding projected budget totals for the year.

“Two things have helped us, number one the DMV Stop program bought an awful lot of collections, and we have an active recovery program through an attorney who works in our real estate delinquencies,” explained Scott. “Again, I can’t say enough about the taxpayer, they really try to pay their taxes.”

Scott sees himself not only as a town employee but as a taxpayer advocate.

“I see myself as an employee of the taxpayer,” he emphasized. “I’m a taxpayer advocate who tries to make sure the taxes they pay to the town are used wisely, and we do the best we can with what we have to work with.”

For those who disagree with the direction the town is taking in terms of its fiscal approach, Scott asked that they speak up.

“Their input is welcome, and it would be nice for people with different ideas or complaints with the way the town uses taxpayer money to come to council meetings and express those concerns,” Scott said. “The only way things can change is if council agrees something needs to be done to make that change.”