Another case of Sandy Springs customers incorrectly charged Atlanta’s higher sales tax – this time by the giant office supply corporation Staples – has been confirmed by the Reporter amid concerns such miscalculation is a factor in lower-than-expected revenue earmarked for transportation projects.

A new transportation local option sales tax, which boosted the Fulton County sales tax from 7 to 7.75 percent, took effect April 1 and was expected to raise more than $100 million for Sandy Springs projects alone, several of which are now underway.

Fulton County officials say that TSPLOST revenues are about 15 percent lower than expected so far, and Sandy Springs officials say their share is down even more, by 20 to 30 percent. Fulton County says it expects to conduct an audit.

The city of Atlanta’s press office did not respond to repeated questions about whether it is having similar problems with its own, separate TSPLOST increase this year, from 8 to 8.9 percent. The state Department of Revenue did not respond to questions about the status of TSPLOST collections.

County officials say that some businesses may not be charging the newly increased tax. Sandy Springs leaders are repeating another concern: that ZIP code confusion is causing their sales tax collections to be misdirected to the city of Atlanta.

The concern is based on businesses using software that report sales by ZIP codes. Many local ZIP codes use the preferred name “Atlanta” even when the addresses are actually in Sandy Springs. Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul recently said he is contacting members of Congress to rename local ZIP codes.

Earlier this year, a local Starbucks coffee shop was charging customers the city of Atlanta’s higher sales tax, which it corrected when contacted by the Reporter, but it is unclear whether any of its revenue actually went to Atlanta coffers.

In a new case, a Sandy Springs resident provided the Reporter with receipts from a recent online purchase from Staples’ promotional product subsidiary. Staples initially showed a properly calculated 7.75 percent sales tax, which increased incorrectly – and without notice — to the city of Atlanta’s 8.9 percent when the purchase was processed. The resident lives in the 30328 ZIP code, which is entirely within Sandy Springs.

Mark Cautela, director of corporate communications at the Massachusetts-based company, apologized and said the customer’s tax overcharge, which was calculated by software, would be refunded in this case. But he declined to answer any further questions, including why the tax was incorrectly calculated and whether Staples will fix the problem.

The Department of Revenue did not respond to questions about how online sales tax revenue from Staples is handled.

Software confusion can work in the other direction, too. Earlier this year, the Atlanta-based bookseller Bas Bleu explained that its software for online sales was incorrectly showing the Atlanta sales tax rate as an estimate to Sandy Springs customers, while after processing, the correct local rate was applied. Bas Bleu said at the time that it uses two different systems for the estimated and actual sales tax processes.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.