NY, NJ highest payers of property tax
Report ranks 775 counties by taxes paid; why are taxes increasing and what can you do about it?
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- New Jersey and New York homeowners face the highest property taxes in the United States, according to a report released Tuesday by the Tax Foundation.
Of the top 10 counties ranked by median property taxes, five were in New York and five were in New Jersey. The Tax Foundation looked at data on 775 counties from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2005 American Community Survey.
Westchester County, north of New York City, ranked No. 1 with $7,337 in median property taxes paid. No. 2 was Nassau County on Long Island, with $7,025.
In New Jersey, Hunterdon County, Bergen County and Essex Country ranked three, four and five, respectively.
The highest county on the list not located in either New York or New Jersey was Lake County, Ill., ranked No. 15. The median property tax paid in that county totaled $5,393.
Fairfield County, Conn. ranked 17 with $5,213 in property taxes paid.
The counties before and after those two exceptions were located in New York and New Jersey.
Gerald Prante, staff economist at Tax Foundation, which advocates for tax reform, says wherever the housing boom has been big, the property taxes are likely to rise.
If property values fall, it will depend on local governments whether or not property taxes do, too.
"If local governments get used to the revenue, they may continue to raise taxes," said Prante. "Or they can keep tax rates low and keep spending low."
On the other end of the list, St. Landry Parish, La., ranked 774 and local homeowners paid $127 in property taxes.
Apache County, Ariz. ranked 775. Local homeowners there paid $126 in property taxes.
Property taxes are meant to be equalized among homeowners to provide revenue to the locality, said Richard Roll, president of the American Homeowners Association.
If property values go up there's no justification to increase property taxes unless there's a new cost to local budget, Roll said.
Unfunded federal mandates, however, help push tax burdens onto state and local municipalities, which raise significant taxes from property values, Roll said.
Then property taxes "acts as a backdoor tax hike. The tax gets buried because people's property taxes are often paid monthly with their mortgage," Roll said.
For this reason, homeowners should scrutinize their tax assessment, Roll advises.
The American Homeowners Association provides a free property tax reduction kit at ahahome.com/propertytax.
Tax assessors' offices are notoriously understaffed, leaving many to rely on software or even outside companies to figure out your bill, CNN's Gerri Willis reported in the October issue of Money Magazine.
Even when an assessor visits, he may just eyeball your property from the sidewalk or the front seat of a car.
The American Homeowners Association (AHA) estimates that 60% of homes are assessed too high, so it pays to scrutinize your assessment line by line.
"There are uneven changes in neighborhood," said Roll. "The changes are uneven generally. That's why it behooves homeowners to check."