CONNIE SWINNEY • PICAYUNE STAFF
MARBLE FALLS — A survey and shopping analysis have revealed local residents take their retail, restaurant and other service industry dollars outside Marble Falls, while tourists and residents from neighboring communities comprise the bulk of shoppers who contribute to city’s economy, officials say.
Marble Falls applies a 2-cent sales tax to taxable items. Of the money collected, 1 cent goes to the city’s general fund; a half-cent goes to the Marble Falls Economic Development Corp.; and the other half-cent goes toward reducing local property taxes, according to EDC Executive Director Christian Fletcher.
According to the assessment from 2012 to 2014, the percentage of taxable spending by Marble Falls residents decreased from about 7.5 percent to 6.5 percent, he said.
“We need to figure out why people are leaving Marble Falls to shop elsewhere and do what we can to have those options available in Marble Falls,” Fletcher said. “We would sure like to see the dollar amount of local spending increase, and you can do that by increasing opportunities and reducing retail gaps in Marble Falls.”
Recent figures from the EDC and the American Community Survey revealed characteristics of shopping habits with variables including the source of sales-tax dollars and household incomes.
Marble Falls reports a population of about 6,100 residents, according to the EDC.
From August 2013 to August 2014, of the more than $354 million of total taxable spending, local taxable spending comprised about $23 million.
“That’s a drastically low number when we talk about the amount of sales tax generated in Marble Falls. (Sales tax figures are) not really coming so much from the local population as it is coming from people outside the area,” Fletcher said. “That’s why tourism is considered the most profitable export in the Marble Falls economy.”
Fletcher added that despite the decrease, the local average household income increased by about $700, or 1.5 percent, from 2011 to 2012.
“So there was more income, but it did not keep up with the pace of sales-tax growth,” he said. “We had more tourists coming in spending more money.”
Marble Falls resident Barbara Valdez said she has started shopping in Austin for clothing and other family needs.
“I love the town, but shopping is not the thing here. It’s hard to find clothes, especially for my 7-year-old. (Retailers) don’t have shoes, their sizes or they’re sold out,” said Valdez, who has three elementary school-aged children. “They play baseball and football, and we have to go to Austin to find athletic stuff.
“We need more selections and more sales because Austin has sales,” she added. “Walmart is kind of expensive, but you go to Austin, and you find name brands that are less expensive.”
Even though local residents like Valdez look elsewhere for bargains and selection, city officials have reported steady increases in overall sales-tax collections.
“We want our cake, and want to eat it, too,” Fletcher said. “We want Marble Falls residents to spend more of their money in Marble Falls, but we also want people in surrounding areas and throughout the state to spend more money here as well.”
Along with potentially expanding choices for local consumers, improving individual prosperity could motivate local residents to shop at home.
“We would love to have better jobs in Marble Falls. Right now, so much of our economy is driven by the service sector, retail and hospitality, and those are not very good paying jobs,” Fletcher said. “We would love to improve the quality of life of the citizens in the community by increasing wage levels.”