RALEIGH — Local taxes and fees in Wilmington topped $2,195 per person in the 2012 budget year, according to a new John Locke Foundation report. That total placed Wilmington at No. 4 for the second straight year in a ranking of the state’s larger cities.
Charlotte bumped Mooresville out of the top spot on the statewide list. Chapel Hill ranked No. 3, while Monroe rounded out the top five. The rankings compared 35 municipalities with at least 25,000 residents.
Jacksonville, at $1,241 per person, ranked No. 35. Thomasville, Indian Trail, Fayetteville, and Asheboro followed Jacksonville on the list of the five largest cities with the lowest local tax and fee burdens.
Among North Carolina’s 88 ranked medium-sized municipalities, one Southeastern community had a rate of local revenues per person substantially higher than the state median: Leland ($1,749). Oak Island and Carolina Beach are unranked because of incomplete data. Oak Island ranked No. 1 and Carolina Beach No. 3 on the 2011 list of communities with populations between 5,000 and 24,999 people.
Other municipalities in that population range were closer to the state median: Boiling Spring Lakes ($1,637), Lumberton ($1,566), and Whiteville ($1,469).
Brunswick County (5.83 percent) had the state’s third-highest tax burden when that burden was calculated in terms of local taxes and fees as a share of personal income. New Hanover (4.84 percent) ranked No. 16. Pender (4.33 percent) ranked No. 31. Columbus (3.78 percent) No. 57, and Onslow County (2.37 percent) No. 98.
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.”
The John Locke Foundation Policy Report, “By The Numbers: What Government Costs in North Carolina Cities and Counties FY 2012,” 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].