Property tax soars across U.S.

Property tax soars across U.S.

By Joe Baker, Senior Editor

High property taxes are hardly news in Rockford and Winnebago County, but in that respect, we are reflecting the rest of the country. Property taxes are rising dramatically across the U.S.

Earlier this month, Rockford voters approved increases for educational purposes, based on property tax, and to build a new county jail, based on sales tax.

According to The Christian Science Monitor, counties, cities and towns are turning to the property tax to close the gaps in their budgets. In Lehigh County, Pa., local government is facing a $30 million shortfall, partly because of demands on its services. The county is putting up a new 36-bed juvenile home and adding a 10th judge to help relieve overcrowding in the county jail.

County Executive Jane Ervin has suggested boosting property taxes by 70 percent. As you might expect, that’s a move that is very unpopular with county residents.

Ervin, a first-term Republican, said: “If I had proposed no tax increase in the budget, there would have been just as many angry people since services would have been cut.”

In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants a 25 percent increase in the property tax. He says that amount is needed to make up for a projected $6.5 billion budget shortage next year.

In Kansas City, the upscale suburb of Westwood Hills is looking at a 19.2 percent tax hike. In Philadelphia it’s even worse. There, property owners are appealing recent property tax increases up to 100 percent.

These increases are coming because there’s less money flowing from the states, which are feeling budget pinches themselves.

With little or no state or federal help, counties, cities and towns have to either cut back services or use up more of their budgets to provide them. In a great many cases, property taxes are their only means to finance the operations of schools, nursing homes and sometimes even the sheriff.

These rising taxes are particularly tough on the poor and the elderly. They face the prospect of losing their homes because of inability to pay them.

Also, these increases come at a time when prices of property are climbing. Even in some areas where that isn’t happening, residents may still have to pay higher real estate taxes if they get frequent assessments.

That can be seen in Texas. In that state, a formula allowing for skyrocketing housing prices led to lower state contributions for education. Arturo Perez of the National Conference of State Legislatures observed: “Local property taxes rose so much, the state had to contribute less.”

U.S. Census data shows property tax collections, after adjusting for inflation, rose from $235 billion to $265 billion between 1998 and 2001. That’s about 13 percent.

“This was before the reassessment boom,” said Pete Sepp, spokesman for the National Taxpayers Union, an antitax group, “so I wouldn’t be surprised if collections went up in the past year as much as they did in that time period.”

Taxpayers in Winnebago County have also noted that reassessment boom.

The issue has caused some political fallout. In New Hampshire, Republican gubernatorial candidate Craig Benson defeated a Democrat after campaigning on a pledge of no increase in property taxes. The Democrat

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