city of Peoria

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, sales tax revenues keep rolling into the city of Peoria, as residents continue to support local businesses.

Economists mulled over mostly good news on the national economy, unveiled Aug. 14. According to a Wall Street Journal story, “U.S. households boosted retail spending 1.2% in July, the third straight monthly increase despite a rise in coronavirus infections.”

At the risk of bragging, Peoria might comment: “That’s nothing!”

Despite slowdowns—and, at times, outright shutdowns—of restaurants, bars, gyms and movie theaters, the Peoria economy is not just surviving the COVID-19 pandemic but thriving through it.

From July 1, 2018, through June 30, 2019, Peoria sales tax revenue was just over $90 million. After July 1, 2019, retail sales in the city really started taking off, with 10% or more increases compared to the previous year in five of eight months, and at least 4.5% increases in the other three.

Then came shutdowns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

March retail sales tax revenue fell by 4% compared to the previous March. April was far worse, with a 13% drop.

And then a curious thing happened: May rebounded, and was up nearly 8% over the previous May.

June was even better, with Peoria’s take of sales taxes at $8.7 million—a 13% jump over the same month last year.

The powerhouse June brought Peoria’s fiscal year sales tax total to just under $99 million, a 6% increase over the 2018-19 fiscal year total of $93 million.

“The percentage increase is pretty good—it even surprised us,” said Barry Houg, the city of Peoria’s deputy director of Finance and Budget.

June’s sales tax revenue was the highest of any non-December (holiday shopping month) for Peoria in the last two years.

“This is like holiday sales in the summer. And we’ve never seen that,” said Houg.

“It has to be related to the stimulus.”

He said Peoria staff members have been pondering about the good fortune.

“A couple things we are thinking are helping are the stimulus CARES Act. And expanded unemployment benefits helped. People still have money to spend,” he said.

“In Peoria, we have businesses providing essential goods. The Targets and Walmarts are doing well. And then our construction is doing well.”

The food service industry has been more up and down, roller coastering through Gov. Doug Ducey’s shutdowns and slowdowns.

“Restaurant and bars were down about 8% in June. They’ve been down (the whole pandemic),” Houg said.

Even that dip is relative: “They were negative 30% a couple months ago,” Houg said of the restaurant sales taxes.

“We’re definitely seeing a comeback in restaurants—it’s getting better,” Houg said.

“But there’s always a concern as this lingers on: Are they going to be able to make it? There are definitely a lot of hurdles to overcome. We have to see about unemployment, if additional stimulus keeps (the economy) propped up,” he added.

“Really, getting the vaccine would be key for everyone.”

According to Houg, at the most recent count, 3,600 Peoria businesses had city licenses to operate.