Press Release

Greensboro and High Point climb, Winston-Salem drops on tax burden list

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Click here to view and here to listen to Michael Lowrey discussing this report.

RALEIGH — Local taxes and fees topped $1,935 per person in Greensboro during the 2011 budget year, a total that helped the city move up three spots to No. 8 in a ranking of North Carolina’s largest communities. High Point ($1,882) also moved up three spots to No. 11, while Winston-Salem ($1,732) dropped six spots to No. 21, according to a new John Locke Foundation report.

Burlington ($1,515) remained at No. 28, Asheboro ($1,337) held steady at No. 31, and Thomasville ($1,252) climbed one spot to No. 32.

Mooresville knocked Charlotte out of the top spot in the statewide list. Chapel Hill ranked No. 2 as the Queen City dropped to third. It’s the first time in more than a decade that Charlotte has not ranked No. 1.

Wilmington and Durham rounded out the top five in rankings of combined city and county government costs per person. The list compared 34 municipalities with at least 25,000 residents. Only Jacksonville and Indian Trail ranked below Thomasville in the list of larger cities.

Among North Carolina’s 92 ranked medium-sized municipalities, two Triad communities compiled rates of local revenues per person significantly higher than the state median: Mount Airy ($1,864) and Kernersville ($1,796). Some communities had rates of local revenues per person closer to the statewide median, including Mebane ($1,620), Graham ($1,601), Mocksville ($1,551), Reidsville ($1,521), Eden ($1,461), and Lexington ($1,352).

Other Triad-area communities ranked among the bottom quarter of medium-sized communities, including King ($1,210), Lewisville ($1,147), Elon ($1,132), Archdale ($1,118), Clemmons ($1,104), Oak Ridge ($1,055), Summerfield ($973), Trinity ($922), and Stokesdale ($908). Gibsonville was unranked because of incomplete information.

Guilford County (5.19 percent) ranked No. 12 in the state in local tax and fee burden expressed as a share of income. Forsyth (4.56 percent) ranked No. 30. Several other counties ranked near the state median of 4.15 percent: Alamance (4.44 percent), Montgomery (4.34 percent), Rockingham (4.16 percent), Surry (3.91 percent), and Randolph (3.48 percent). Other Triad-area counties ranked among the 25 N.C. counties with the lowest local tax burdens: Davie (3.37 percent), Yadkin (3.29 percent), Davidson (3.08 percent), Stokes (2.99 percent), and Caswell (2.49 percent). Caswell County placed No. 95 out of 96 ranked counties in the state.

By The Numbers: What Government Costs in North Carolina Cities and Counties FY 2011 is the 15th 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 continues to highlight a continuing problem that helps skew data. Four counties and nearly 40 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 still is not available from the treasurer’s office,” Lowrey explained. “Without those reports, 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.

Among the 10 most populous counties, Durham (5.86 percent), Mecklenburg (5.31 percent), Guilford (5.19 percent), New Hanover (5.12 percent), and Buncombe (4.75 percent) ranked among the top 25 N.C. counties in average cost of local government. Wake (4.60 percent), Gaston (4.56 percent), Forsyth (4.56 percent), and Union (4.22 percent) ranked near the middle of the pack. Cumberland (3.22 percent) ranked No. 85 of the 96 ranked counties.

North Carolina collected $21.9 billion in state tax and fee revenues from July 1, 2010, to June 30, 2011. That’s 6.3 percent of state residents’ personal income. Local governments collected an additional $15.2 billion in property, sales, and other taxes and fees. That’s another 4.4 percent of personal income.

“Combined, they represent a state and local tax and fee burden of 10.7 percent,” Lowrey said. “Federal collections raise the total tax burden on North Carolinians to approximately 27.3 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.”

The John Locke Foundation Policy Report, “By The Numbers: What Government Costs in North Carolina Cities and Counties FY 2011,” is available at the JLF website. For more information, please contact Michael Lowrey at (704) 569-4269 or [email protected]. To arrange an interview, contact Mitch Kokai at (919) 306-8736 or [email protected].

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About John Locke Foundation

We are North Carolina’s Most Trusted and Influential Source of Common Sense. The John Locke Foundation was created in 1990 as an independent, nonprofit think tank that would work “for truth, for freedom, and for the future of North Carolina.” The Foundation is named for John Locke (1632-1704), an English philosopher whose writings inspired Thomas Jefferson and the other Founders.

The John Locke Foundation is a 501(c)(3) research institute and is funded solely from voluntary contributions from individuals, corporations, and charitable foundations.