The highest property taxes in America
If you can afford to live in one of these counties, congratulations — and condolences on your tax bill.
No one looks forward to the day their annual property tax bill arrives. But those in affluent Westchester County, a suburban swath of New York that includes areas such as Rye and Armonk, most likely dread it more than most. That's because homeowners fork over a median $8,404 per year to live there. That's seven times more than the $1,180 national average, and on a dollar basis, the highest in the nation.
Across the country, Marin County, Calif., holds a similar distinction. While not as lofty as Westchester's, the region's $5,233 median annual property taxes are the highest in the West. Residents of Loudon County, Va., a wealthy suburb of Washington, D.C., pay most in the South, or $4,844 annually. And in the Midwest, those in Lake County, Ill., lay out $6,050 a year to own a home.
Behind the numbers
In ranking each county, we used the 2008 U.S. Census' American Community Survey, which is conducted every year with a smaller sample of Americans than the decennial census (one home in every 40 receives the ACS, as opposed to the one in six that receives the 10-year census). The survey asked property owners how much they spent per month in property taxes. Researchers then used the median number per county over three years: 2006 through 2008. We separated the data into the four census-defined regions: West, Midwest, Northeast and South, and ranked counties by their percentage above the national average property tax. (Click here for a full list.)
Three of the country's top five highest-taxed counties — Westchester, Nassau and Rockland — are in New York state. Homes in these areas are pricey — in Westchester the median home value is $581,900, three times the national average, according to census numbers — which naturally helps drive up those bills. But another factor is at play here: Counties in the census-defined Northeast region tend to be carved into an array of towns, villages and municipalities that don't derive their property taxes from statewide levies. This results in a greater dependence on property taxes for local revenue. Because the region also has highly concentrated pockets of wealth, it takes 19 out of the top 20 spots for highest-taxed counties.
"The more emphasis you put on local autonomy, the more you're going to have local taxes picking up some of what, in other areas of the country, would tend to be state-level responsibilities," says Joan Youngman, senior fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, a Cambridge, Mass.-based think tank that researches land taxation issues. "When there's an emphasis on local government, it often means there's an emphasis on property tax."
But even in spite of big-government measures meant to ease one's property tax burden, hefty bills can result if home values are high. Proposition 13, a piece of tax legislation introduced in 1978 that strictly limits property tax burdens, calls for Californians to pay only 1% of their home values in real-estate tax.
In Marin County, a mountainous Bay Area suburb packed with sleek, expensive homes, the median household income is $88,101, and homes are valued at a median $912,100, with a median annual property tax of $5,233, more than four times the national average. It's the same story in Santa Clara County, Calif., where taxes are $4,437, and San Mateo County, Calif., where the annual bill is $4,208.
"Even in a situation where we're dealing with the classic original, trendsetting tax limitation measure, when you have property values as high as you do in Marin, you're going to have high property taxes," says Youngman.
Sometimes a county's high property tax rate has little to do with home values. In states where the federal or state government owns a big portion of the land, property taxes are concentrated in the privately owned segments of the state, and are typically high. Of the top 10 highest property tax counties in the West, King County, Wash., and Anchorage Municipality, Alaska, were the only non-California areas. In Washington, 30% of land is federally owned, and in Alaska, it's a whopping 69%, the highest percentage in the country.
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High property taxes, in addition to providing extra local services, often compensate for low sales or income taxes. That works fine during boom times, Youngman says, but disproportionately affects struggling homeowners in recessions. But swinging the pendulum in the opposite direction isn't necessarily the answer, either. An even balance of revenue sources can avoid unduly burdening one segment of the population.
"A mixed-revenue system avoids putting the pressure on one single tax," she says, adding that no solution is likely to appease the whole populace. "No tax is popular. Any place you look, people are going to be upset about certain aspects of it."
The highest property taxes by region
|Region||Avg. annual property tax|
|Midwest||Lake County, Ill.||$6,052|
|Northeast||Westchester County, N.Y.||$8,404|
|South||Loudoun County, Va.||$4,844|
|West||Marin County, Calif.||$5,233|
The fairest tax is the sales or VAT tax, but of course, this will never fly here. Incredible!
Seems like the Tenn. poster is the only one who is pleased with her taxes. Let's all move to Tenn. since they also have no state income tax. But the tax on FOOD may be 6 to 8.75 %. Then when you die your heirs will pay 5.5% to 9.5% of the value of the property transferred at death.
Let's face it, wherever you live the local politicians will find a way to take your money for the never ending projects which they dream up. Just stay where you are and complain loudly. You'll feel better.
I agree with the New Jersey post: I wish we could pay $5,000.00 for our building in Newport: we pay almost double that with increases in taxes yearly and assessment increases every three years! Holding on to what you have seem to be our biggest challange.
Newport, Rhode Island
I live in NH in a double wide, in a park. Taxes are 4000. and I would be
lucky to get $100,000 if I wasl lucky Rebel
It is my belief that the vast majority of citizens across the country are sick and tired and fed up with being overtaxed.
These days, anyone who has a lap top can write anything. These data have absolutely no meaning, whatso ever. We live in Plymouth, Minnesota, house value is proabaly not more than 550K, we have been paying well over $8500 in property taxes to Hennepin County for the last 10+ years. My boss lives in Lake County, IL and he pays around $ 1500+ a year in property taxes and still complains the taxes are too expensive.
Do some research. Get real data, and have the facts straight for god's sake.
As I sit here in FL paying 1220 a year having ecaped NY and 8000 in propery taxes I openly mock you in CA and the Northeast and Philly and Chicago...Why you ask?Look at the common denominator!!!!DEMOCRAT TAX AND SPEND GOVT!!!You Idiots keep complaining yet do nothing at the polls! I left the area to get away from the fiscal assraping and the incompentent fools running the place and the even stupider people who kept rewarding this behavior.My only regret is some of the same idiots are moving here in droves and wanting to repeat the same mistakes they made up north!