Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Property Taxes Reach the Breaking Point

It really costs to own a home these days. Not only have home values fallen, leaving nearly one-quarter of residential mortgages under water, but also, local governments around the country have increased property taxes to make up for declining revenue from other sources.

Homeowners now give a slightly bigger portion of their earnings to property taxes—which mainly go to public schools, with the rest going to government operations and other public services—than before the recession. The Tax Foundation, a Washington (D.C.) research organization that advocates for lower taxes, estimates that 3.5 percent of household income went to property taxes in 2009, compared with 2.9 percent in 2005. The median property taxes paid on homes increased to $1,917 in 2009 from $1,614 in 2005.

How much is too much? In Miami-Dade County, taxpayers have had enough. Angered by a property tax hike amid plunging real estate values, as well as a pay raise to county employees and a new $600 million stadium for the Florida Marlins, 88 percent of 204,500 people voted to oust Mayor Carlos Alvarez in a recall election on Mar. 15.

Miami-Dade residents pay the most property tax in Florida: a median $2,600 per year, according to the Tax Foundation, citing the average median real estate taxes paid annually from 2005 to 2009 in U.S. Census Bureau reports. Last year, Mayor Alvarez pushed for a 14 percent property tax rate increase to help fill a $444 million budget hole.

"It's not proper to increase taxes by $178 million [in] this community—while over 50 percent or close to 50 percent of [homeowners] here owe more money than their homes are worth," Norman Braman, the billionaire car dealer who led the recall effort, told reporters. (read more)