Property Taxes: Highest Rates Chill Northeast

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Cities with highest property taxNew York and New Jersey are the states with the highest-taxed counties, but upstate New York has it the worst.

Counties in upstate New York put a proportionally higher tax burden on homeowners, despite lower home values there, so their tax rates are effectively higher, reports the nonpartisan tax research group The Tax Foundation.

For those of you who've wondered how taxes for owner-occupied homes in your county fare compared to others in the U.S., the Tax Foundation has recently supplied this information on the 792 counties with populations of 65,000 or more. The 2009 data compares counties and taxes, relative to owner-occupied home values -- information which should be useful to homeowners curious about whether their taxes rate low or high.

"We are putting it out there because we get so many questions about taxes," says Bill Ahern, Director of Policy and Communications for the Tax Foundation. And while many are eager to find out how their county ranks, residents of Westchester County may be taking the findings in stride: They paid the highest median real estate taxes in the country. "We believe the market value of the home is the proper base for levying the tax," says Ahern. "After all, if you lived in a much biggest house you'd pay more, a smaller house would mean less. That seems right for a property tax."
These findings cover more than just the property tax-dollar amount: They also show the median taxes paid as a percentage of income and as a percentage of a home's value.

The Census Bureau recently released housing numbers based on the 2009 American Community Survey and the Tax Foundation used that survey to come up with two
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charts. One compares the 792 high-population counties in the U.S., ranking them by taxes-as- percentage-of-home-value, another by property-taxes-paid.

"There's no established way of establishing tax burden," says Ahern. "We get calls saying, 'What percentage of a home's income goes to property taxes?' which is hard to find.

"We used to publish property tax collections, but if you want that info, you have to wait three years for collections data that involves other properties like strip malls and commercial properties. You can get more recent data from the survey from 2009, which is also focused on owner-occupied homes.

"We love the survey," he adds, "because it's more recent and focuses on exactly what people want most: residential, homeowner-occupied tax rates."

While some question the survey's veracity, since it only represents one year and anomalies can skew results (as Katrina did for Louisiana in 2005), Ahern says that the numbers are reliable.

"People do provide the information, so we count on them. But when we look back on previous years, the information is accurate. It's solid data. We think it's a great resource."

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