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August 21, 2014
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Your local property taxes; The second in a series of articles

Ken Hilton

Most local governments provide recreation and cultural services for their residents, operating libraries and parks, maintaining playgrounds, and sometimes even running museums and stadiums. Local governments try to closely manage land usage, ensuring that environmental laws are enforced, passing and enforcing zoning and building regulations. As you might expect, most counties, towns and cities have various planning boards that try to anticipate future community needs in land usage, transportation and environmental concerns. Finally, local governments provide administration services, employing clerks, assessors, business administrators and others who manage and supervise the 12 million people employed by local governments, nation-wide. (Far more people are employed by local governments than by all 50 states and the federal government, combined.)

It’s important to note that property taxes are not the sole source of revenues to local government. In New York State, approximately half of the revenues used by public schools, towns and villages come from local property taxes. A much larger share of revenues for libraries and fire districts also comes from local property taxes. State aid makes up almost a third of the annual revenue used by local governments. Sales taxes, federal aid, fees, fines and other smaller revenue sources make up the remainder of local government expenses.

Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. wisely reminded us that “taxes are the price of a civilized society.” In the next article of this series I’ll discuss more about our property taxes (the price we pay for our local civilization) and explain how and why they’ve grown so much in recent decades.