Tax burden picture cleared

First Posted: 3/21/2009

LUMBERTON How can a county have one of the highest tax rates in the
state and still have the second lowest property tax burden per
resident in the state?
Turns out it cant not if the equation is properly factored.
That question arose shortly after Robeson County Manager Ken Windley
told the Board of Commissioners early this month that according to the
North Carolina Association of County Commissioners only Swain County,
with a tax levy of $296 per person, is lower than Robeson Countys tax
levy of $328 per person.
The data Windley cited actually came from the John Locke Foundation
a conservative think tank not the N.C. Association of County
Commissioners, according to an association spokesman. The information
was included in the foundations report By The Numbers: What
Government Costs in North Carolina Cities and Counties FY 2007.
The reports author, Michael Lowery, used the most recent information
available from the State Treasurers Office, Census Bureau, and Bureau
of Economic Analysis to construct rankings of government cost on a
per-person basis. For counties, he also constructed rankings on a
share-of-income basis.
Windley said that the data he presented to commissioners was included
in an e-mail sent to him by a N.C. Association of County Commissioners
employee. The source of the data was not included in the message.
Windley, in praising Robeson Countys second lowest tax-burden in the
state, did not take into account for personal income, according to Joe
Coletti, a fiscal policy analyst with the John Locke Foundation.
Robeson County is one of the poorer county in the states, with a
per-capita income in 2005 of $20,429, according to Census Bureau. Its
tax rate of 80 cents for every $100 of property is the 15th highest
among the states 100 counties.
To get a clear picture, you have to look at things from the
perspective of personal income. Your manager is not wrong if you just
take the amount of taxes levied and divide it by the number of county
residents, Coletti said. But he is taking the rosiest of scenarios.
You get a more accurate picture if you add in sales tax collections
and other taxes and fees people pay.
Coletti said that when both Robeson County and municipal taxes are
added together, the tax burden per person is about $1,059.96, ranking
it 25th lowest among the states 100 counties. When you look at that
in terms of personal income, however, that is 4.89 percent of income,
or 41st highest in the state, he said.
Lowery, also a John Locke Foundation policy analyst, said that the
average resident in a median ranked county, such as Robeson, forked
over 4.71 percent of personal income to local government in 2007.
As a share of income you are right in the middle of the pack, Coletti said.
Windley said Saturday that he purposely only reported to the
commissioners the countys tax-burden ranking based on property taxes
because that is the only tax in which he and county officials have any
I dont have any influence over income taxes, sales taxes or any
taxes or fees charged by municipalities, he said. I only have an
influence over the property tax burden.
Windley said that because county officials realize the personal income
of many county residents is on the low side, the county doesnt burden
residents with high taxes. He said that while there are some fees
charged for county services, such as tapping into the public water
system, these fees are also on the low side compared with other
The manager also said that the countys tax rate will drop after
completion of the property revaluation that will take place next year.
We havent had a property revaluation since 2005, he said.
The tax rate has not been raised in more than a decade. In the
mid-90s, the rate was 99 cents per $100 of property.

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