Wal-Mart affects economies in Vidalia, Ferriday

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 9, 2007

VIDALIA — When Vidalia City Council members voted to increase the municipal budget in August, they said they did so because of anticipated increased sales tax revenue.

And they anticipated most of that revenue to be generated from one business: Wal-Mart.

Concordia Parish Sales Tax Collector Randy Temple said to be careful not to read too much into the numbers. On the surface tax data seems to indicate Wal-Mart has a large impact on how much a town collects in sales tax revenue, he said.

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Since January 2006, the statewide sales tax rate is 4 percent, and the Concordia Parish tax rate is 4.75 percent, making a total sales tax rate of 8.75 percent.

A 1.5-cent sales tax that went into effect Jan. 1, 2006, might have had some impact on sales tax figures, but it could not account for all of the growth.

Although sales tax revenue actually increased in Ferriday in the summer months before Wal-Mart closed its doors at the Ferriday location, in the three months leading up to its closure, sales tax revenue steadily declined from the same period in 2005.

The most recent available tax data indicates a decline of $29,860.75 in sales tax for the month of June, down from $109,244.88 in June 2006 — before the closure — to $79,384.13 in June 2007 after the closure.

Conversely, the same period reflected a growth of almost $50,000 — $48,987.892 — after the Wal-Mart opened in Vidalia.

Ferriday Mayor Gene Allen acknowledged Wal-Mart moving its location was initially a loss to the town and that there are currently no prospects to fill its old building, but with the low-price general store behemoth gone, some local businesses have begun to prosper, he said.

“Merchants have added lines to their merchandise to bring business in,” he said. “Sales are the strongest they’ve been in Ferriday in 30 years.”

Even before the retail giant opened in Vidalia there was an increase in sales taxes in the form of the use tax, Temple said.

The three months of construction leading up to the opening of the Vidalia Wal-Mart remitted a lot of use taxes for the equipment used, from forklifts to the store buggies, Temple said.

“Even the concrete used in the slab contributed to those (tax) numbers,” he said.

But Wal-Mart wasn’t the only one contributing to the numbers at the time.

“There was some other, smaller construction in the area,” Temple said.

And Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland said the retail giant hasn’t contributed to the closure of any smaller businsses in his town.

“We’ve been adding (small) businesses since Wal-Mart, and we have several larger businesses looking to come to the area,” Copeland said.

“(Wal-Mart) has brought more traffic to Vidalia, and more traffic means more business for other businesses,” he said. “It’s been a plus.”