Every year when it arrives in my mailbox, it makes my heart skip a beat: sweaty palms, rapid pulse, shallow breathing and all. I'm talking about my property tax bill – and while I know I've got the expenses covered thanks to my escrow account, it still takes me a few moments to realize that I don't have to drain my emergency fund to make the payment. This year, however, when that bill came in the mail, a list of property tax rates for my city and neighboring towns in my county came along with it. Also included in the letter was a list of services the city and/or county provide in exchange for my taxes. It got me thinking about tax rates – and the services that come with them – in other jurisdictions. My Property Taxes Where I live, both the county and the city levy property taxes. The county property tax rate – which you pay whether you also live in an area incorporated by a city – is 0.674 percent. That means you can expect to pay the county $674 in property taxes for every $100,000 your home is worth. In my case, my house has an appraised tax value – established by a 2010 property assessment – of $161,200; that comes out to $1,086.49 in county property taxes. On top of that, I also live in our county's biggest city. For that privilege, I pay an additional .491 percent, or $491 for every $100,000 your home is worth. That increases my overall property tax bill by $791.49, for  grand total of $1,877.98 in property taxes. My Services In exchange for paying my property taxes, I get a slew of services from the city and the county:

  • City police service
  • County firefighters and emergency responders
  • Regular street cleaning (spring thru fall) and snow plowing (winter), provided by the county
  • Trash, recycling, and yard waste collection (bins and trash cans provided free of charge), provided by the city
  • Subsidized sewer and water utility rates, provided by the city
  • Access to the county public library system, which doesn't charge *any* late fees on printed materials
  • Free or discounted admission to city parks and pools

Of course, there are other things that my payments go toward – things like education and paying city workers – but these are the specific services highlighted by the county tax collector. The Comparison My parents, who live in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, have always lamented that I pay far, far less in property taxes than they do – but receive better services. I decided to put them to the test. I used the Home Listing Report at Coldwell Banker's website to compare the appraised tax value of my home against property values in my parent's town. The site said that my $161,200 home would appraise for roughly $168,000 where my parents live in Ohio. Next, I went to the website of the fiscal office in the county where my parents reside (I'm not disclosing that information for privacy reasons), and used a property tax calculator provided on the site. Based on the "translated" tax value of $168,000, if I lived in my parents' city, I'd owe $3,841 each year in property taxes (that dollar amount includes both city and county taxes). That's more than double what I currently pay, and an overall tax rate of 2.286 percent! Then I started examining the services. In my parents' town, the bulk of the difference in tax rates stems from the school system; where I grew up, schools were operated on a city to city or town to town level, not on a county-wide basis as is the status quo where I currently live. Tax levies supporting the city school district represent nearly half of city taxes my parents pay. The city's library – again, a city (not county) entity funded entirely by a large endowment made decades ago – does not receive anything from property taxes. The city is in charge of its own snow removal, and being in Ohio, they pay a hefty price for that, but they pay nothing for garbage pickup; this is one of my parents' chief complaints, as they have to pay a trash collection company to collect their garbage every week, otherwise they'd have to take it to the county dump themselves. They also have to pay separately for yard waste removal and recycling. The county property taxes help to support the county-wide parks system, which includes several neighboring counties as well; however, there are no public pools supported by this measure.

Reader, what is your property tax rate? What services does it provide? Do you think you're getting a good deal?

Libby Balke
Libby Balke