A detailed analysis conducted by Empower Texans’ Metroplex Bureau has revealed an alarming disparity in municipal property tax burdens across North Texas’ fifty largest cities. The most egregious offender, Southlake, levies a property tax burden on the local economy that’s more than four times higher than the two lowest cities—Haltom City and Watauga.
“Property rich” cities (those with a larger relative tax base) such as Southlake aren’t necessarily required to provide a greater number of core city services for residents, yet their tax burden is significantly higher. Inside local government circles, a debate over the appropriate level of taxation isn’t a discussion elected officials are having because they’re often judged on property tax rates alone, not the effective tax burden that takes into account property values.
Analyzing property tax burdens can be challenging since families and businesses pay a percentage of their property’s value, as opposed to a fixed dollar amount. As a result, rising appraisal values can result in a higher cost of government for taxpayers, even as city officials leave tax rates unchanged or decrease them over time. Officials in cities experiencing rapid appraisal growth often receive credit for “cutting taxes,” but despite paying a lower rate, the average resident actually pays more in taxes.
The lowering of a property tax rate is not always analogous to a “tax cut” because the overall tax burden is a function of both the tax rate and a property’s assigned value. Both factors need to be taken into account. For example, if two families in different cities both own a $150,000 property, then the homeowner who pays a lower tax rate may also enjoy a lower effective tax burden. But it’s also possible for a homeowner with a lower tax rate to actually pay a larger tax bill than someone in another city, if his or her property is significantly more valuable.
It’s important to recognize that cities don’t have identical mixtures of residential, commercial and other taxable property inside their jurisdictions. In order to calculate the effective tax burden levied on a city-wide basis, the size of the property tax base itself needs to be considered, in addition to the nominal tax rate.
Below are the top twenty North Texas cities that levy the highest effective property tax burdens, when calculated on a per resident basis.
Due to other variables, the above figures are not reflective of what cities actually collect in tax revenue. Those statistics will be released separately. It is also important to note that the three asset categories subject to municipal property taxation are residential, commercial and business-personal property. The total taxable-assessed value is defined as the combined property value from all three-asset categories, net of all local tax exemptions, such as the homestead exemption.
In the following weeks, we will continue to release the results of our inaugural Local Government Snapshot analysis, which measures city spending, taxation, and debt levels across North Texas’ fifty most populous cities. Local officials and residents alike must be empowered with basic information in order to determine the appropriate size and scope of local government.
Note: Each city’s 2014 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) provided all information used in our benchmarking analysis, including population figures.
*Cities that did not have their 2014 CAFR published online were included in our analysis using data from their 2013 CAFR.
**Property tax rates are the number of cents taxpayers pay for every $100 of property valuation. For example, a tax rate of 50 cents on a $100,000 of property would result in a tax liability of [($100,000/100) x (0.50)], or $500.