Grand Forks' September sales tax revenue sets record

The city raked in $3.46 million dollars in collections in September. Also, the city's October sales tax report shows collections of $2.83 million, a 9.7% increase over last October.

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Eric Knudson, co-owner of Gerrells in Grand Forks, said the business "had a good summer." It's a trend that is backed up by citywide sales tax revenue during the summer months.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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GRAND FORKS — Grand Forks saw record sales tax revenue in September and October, indicating a strong summer and an eventual return to pre-pandemic tourism numbers.

The city raked in $3.46 million dollars in collections in September, the highest monthly collection received since the inception of the sales tax in 1985, according to Maureen Storstad, Grand Forks director of finance and administrative services. The total includes additional lodging and restaurant taxes.

Of that total, about 5.5% is derived from online sales tax within Grand Forks, according to the North Dakota Office of State Tax Commissioner.

“It’s good for the community when visitors come to town,” said Julie Rygg, executive director of Visit Greater Grand Forks. “They’re spending money that helps with sales tax revenue and lodging tax revenue. They shop, stay at hotels, eat at restaurants, and enjoy events and attractions.”

Also, the city's October sales tax report shows collections of $2.83 million, a 9.7% increase over last October.


The rolling 12-month total is $31.47 million, which is approximately $3 million more than during the same time period in 2021 and some $5.5 million more than in 2020.

The collection reported is two months after the money was actually spent at area businesses, restaurants and hotels. That means that though the numbers are reported in September, they actually indicate the impact in July. Same for the October numbers, which represent August spending.

Money collected from the city sales tax is allocated to several projects that benefit Grand Forks residents, Storstad said, including infrastructure projects such as roads and water projects.

Eric Knudson, co-owner of Gerrells Sports Center in Grand Forks, saw an increase in traffic this summer from out-of-towners, which correlates with an increase in sales.

“We had a good summer,” Knudson said. “Did we see increased traffic Monday through Thursday? Yes. If there was an event over the weekend, did we see traffic? Absolutely.”

Some major events this summer that drew people to the area included events at the Alerus Center — such as concerts by Alan Jackson, Hank Williams Jr. and Thomas Rhett — and the BMX Gold Cup Qualifier. But smaller events, such as youth baseball tournaments or hockey camps, also drew in thousands of families over the summer.

“Those people are in town on the weekend for an event or tournament and, before they go back home, they’ll stop in and shop around because they might have hockey camp or something starting next week,” Knudson said. “It’s very important people see what our community has to offer, and hopefully the event that was put on is something they enjoyed and they’ll be back year after year after year.”

In an Oct. 21 report from Storstad to Mayor Brandon Bochenski, City Administrator Todd Feland and members of the City Council, Storstad noted an upward swing in restaurant/lodging tax collections.


"A 12-month look at this portion of the sales tax shows it is up 18.59% on a 12-month rolling and 15.86% on a calendar basis. Monthly swings in this and overall sales tax collections do happen and some of this could be due to timing of reporting. We continue to monitor and look toward the overall trend," she wrote. "At this point, the trend is favorable."

While the recent sales tax numbers are promising and are a strong indicator for increased tourism within the city, hotel occupancy rates still have a ways to recover and return to pre-pandemic numbers, Rygg said.

Hotel occupancy was up 17% for the month of July compared to the year before and up 9% in August. But while the August 2022 occupancy rate was a promising 66.9%, it’s still noticeably lower than August 2019’s 73% occupancy rate.

Year-to-date occupancy was at 55% through August, whereas it was 47% for the same timeframe in 2021. Total room revenue is up 40% through August compared to last year as well.

While inflation does have a part to play in that increase, Rygg is confident it’s due to higher occupancy and demand.

One of the lingering impacts from the pandemic is that Canadian visitor numbers are still smaller than pre-pandemic numbers.

“It takes time, “ Rygg said. “We’re working hard to get there. We’re doing a lot of advertising and sales events. We’re definitely getting there though, and I’m sure we’ll get back to those numbers.”

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