Triangle residents endure some of the highest local tax burdens in North Carolina. From today’s news release from the John Locke Foundation about the new “By The Numbers” report on the cost of local government in our state. 

Local taxes and fees topped $2,315 per person in Chapel Hill during the 2012 budget year, as the Orange County town dropped from No. 2 to No. 3 among North Carolina’s largest municipalities in per capita local government costs.

Durham ($2,111) dropped one spot to No. 6, and Cary ($1,951) maintained its No. 9 ranking in the John Locke Foundation’s annual ranking of North Carolina’s local tax-and-fee burdens.

Meanwhile, Raleigh ($1,912) dropped five spots to No. 16. Wake Forest ($1,871) also dropped five spots to No. 19. Holly Springs ($1,933) dropped one spot to No. 11, Garner ($1,873) maintained its No. 18 ranking, and Apex ($1,696) climbed one spot to No. 22.

After one year at No. 3, Charlotte moved back to the top of the statewide list, followed by Mooresville, Chapel Hill, Wilmington, and Monroe. The list compared 35 municipalities with at least 25,000 residents. Jacksonville, Thomasville, Indian Trail, Fayetteville, and Asheboro ranked lowest among the larger cities.

Among North Carolina’s 88 ranked medium-sized municipalities, six Triangle-area communities ranked among the state’s top 25 for their rates of local revenues per person: Hillsborough ($2,436), Carrboro ($2,181), Smithfield ($2,123), Morrisville ($2,035), Clayton ($1,763), and Siler City ($1,745).

Other area municipalities were closer to the state median, including Fuquay-Varina ($1,726), Knightdale ($1,705), Wendell ($1,699), Henderson ($1,573), Selma ($1,541), and Oxford ($1,452). Butner ($971) places No. 86 among the 88 ranked municipalities in this group. Roxboro is unranked for a third straight year because of incomplete data.

Durham (5.66 percent) County moves up two spots to No. 4 when counties are ranked by the tax-and-fee burden as a share of personal income. Wake (4.44 percent) ranks No. 25, while Orange (4.34 percent) ranks No. 30. Several area counties ranked closer to the state median of 3.94 percent. That includes Johnston (3.93 percent), Franklin (3.86 percent), and Vance (3.86 percent). Granville (3.33 percent), Person (3.17 percent), and Chatham (3.12 percent) ranked among the 25 counties with the lowest per person tax burdens.

By The Numbers: What Government Costs in North Carolina Cities and Counties FY 2012 is the 16th such report published by the John Locke Foundation. Lowrey used the most recent data available from the State Treasurer, Bureau of Labor Statistics, and Bureau of Economic Analysis to construct rankings of local government cost on a per-person basis. For counties, he also constructed rankings on a share-of-income basis.

Lowrey highlights a continuing problem that helps skew the rankings. Hyde and Sampson counties and 44 municipalities missed state deadlines to file their State Treasurer’s Annual Financial Information Report.

“Whether those local governments filed the statements after the deadline or not, the information was not available from the treasurer’s office in time to be included in this report,” Lowrey explained. “Without those AFIR statements, By The Numbers cannot include local tax burdens for those communities. Complete reporting would result in a somewhat higher combined county-municipal median tax burden.”

Lowrey also repeated his annual warning against comparing the relatively high per-capita tax numbers in resort communities to those in other N.C. cities. Communities with larger numbers of second homes and resorts — combined with small year-round populations — will see larger per-capita tax burden figures, he said.

The latest report contains another warning. “The state treasurer’s office drastically reformulated how local government financial information is reported with data for the 2012 budget year,” Lowrey said. “It is thus possible that comparisons between this edition of By The Numbers and previous reports might be more difficult.”

Among the 10 most populous counties, Durham (5.66 percent), Mecklenburg (5.44 percent), Guilford (5.02 percent), New Hanover (4.84 percent), Forsyth (4.56 percent), Gaston (4.56 percent), Buncombe (4.52 percent), and Wake (4.44 percent) all ranked among the top 25 N.C. counties in average cost of local government. Union (4.04 percent) ranked near the middle of the pack. Cumberland (3.11 percent) ranked No. 83 of the 98 ranked counties.

North Carolina collected $21.9 billion in state tax and fee revenues from July 1, 2011, to June 30, 2012. That’s 6 percent of state residents’ personal income. Local governments collected an additional $15.7 billion in property, sales, and other taxes and fees. That’s another 4.3 percent of personal income.

“Combined, they represent a state and local tax and fee burden of 10.3 percent,” Lowrey said. “Federal collections raise the total tax burden on North Carolinians to approximately 26.8 percent of personal income, on average.”

Lowrey stresses that a high cost-of-government ranking in the By The Numbers report does not equal a judgment that a city or county is governed poorly.

“By The Numbers is a tool that represents factual data only, without editorial comment or bias,” Lowrey said. “The best way to compare your city or county to others is to find municipalities or counties of similar size and demographics.”

“This report helps taxpayers evaluate whether the services they receive from local government merit what they are paying for them,” he added. “We hope taxpayers will continue to ask about the proper role of local government and its relationship to the state. It’s important to keep these discussions alive and to ensure our local leaders remain accountable to taxpayers.”