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Tax burden up to voters

Now that the Fourth of July is over, it’s time to recognize the new year — the new fiscal year that started July 1 for local governments. The 2014-15 budgets that elected leaders approved last month are bringing higher taxes for property owners in Rowan, with additional increases for those who live in cities and towns.
Like the children in Lake Wobegon, we’re above average, at least in this regard. Compared to similar N.C. communities and their local tax burden, we’re closer to the top than the bottom, but nowhere near the stratosphere.
For starters, the Rowan County property tax rate is going up 2.75 cents per $100 valuation, from 62.25 cents to 65 cents. For the owner of a $200,000 house, that’s a $55 increase in the yearly property tax bill.
In the city of Salisbury, the property tax rate is going up 1.95 cents per $100 valuation, from 63.74 cents to 65.69 cents, taking taxes on a $200,000 house up $39 for the year.
The tax news is tougher for people who pay both city and county taxes. The 10 municipalities in Rowan passed varying tax increases, from none in Spencer to 4 cents in Kannapolis. But in Salisbury, for example, the new combined rate is $1.3069 per $100 — $2,613.80 on a $200,000 house, up $94 from the previous year.
Comparisons are tricky; no two cities are alike. But a John Locke Foundation study of the combined city and county tax burdens in the 35 N.C. cities with populations over 25,000 helps put local taxation levels in perspective.
According to the report, in 2012 Salisbury was 13th among the 35 cities in total revenue raised per person in city and county property taxes, sales taxes and other fees, $1,928.97 per capita. Kannapolis was 23rd; Concord was 20th.
Mooresville, often pointed to as a success story because of its stellar school system, ranked second in the state — a fall from first last year — with $2,379.13 in city and county taxes per capita. No. 1 on the list this year is nearby Charlotte, with $2,336.16. Jacksonville had the lowest combined local tax revenue per person, $1,241.57. If your No. 1 concern is taxes, you’d be happier in Jacksonville than Mooresville.
There’s a lot more to the local tax picture than cold numbers. The Rowan tax increase is due to improvements at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, the addition of four deputies, raises and — the hot-button issue — the purchase and renovation of the former Salisbury Mall. The city of Salisbury has been rocked by the sudden departure of the city manager and subsequent revelations about severance packages and raises — white-hot issues at the moment. The lower-than-expected performance of Fibrant looms in the background.
Concerns about issues like these compelled North Carolina to create the Local Government Commission and empower it to closely monitor county and municipal finances. That’s the safeguard. Whether the tax burden ranks in the middle or at the extremes is a matter of local priorities.

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