Florida Tax Watch has released its analysis of How Florida Counties Compare in terms of total taxes paid at the local level.  The counties of most interest to us here at Achievable Solutions, Inc. fare reasonably well in these rankings, out of 67 counties, they rank between 28th and 46th–right in the middle of the pack–of the groups first and most-quoted ranking.

Total Per Capita Property Tax Levy by County

  • 28.  Citrus                     $1,102.97
  • 30.  Sumter                  $1,033.01
  • 33.  Lake                        $1,019.08
  • 41.  Hernando             $    836.42
  • 42.  Marion                  $    827.15
  • 43.  Levy                       $    818.00
  • 46.  Pasco                     $    787.46

I can’t figure out how to do tables properly on WordPress, so this is the best I can do for the moment.  Now, before we go further, we should clarify these numbers.  I have a couple points to make.

1.  This is an odd way to report property tax levies since property taxes are not paid by individuals, they are paid by property owners.  And the owners of property and the residents of the county have only a partial overlap.  Absentee landowners, commercial property owners, and the like pay a disproportionate share of the property taxes.  In Citrus County, residential property (including vacant lots) only pays something like 56% of the total property tax levy.  The remainder is mostly split between commercial property (retail and offices) and tangible property (capital equipment and inventory).   So, the numbers above are largely meaningless in a what-did-the-individual-resident-pay sort of way.

1a.  It is unclear to me whether a higher value here means residents are paying more in taxes or not.  Obviously, that could be the case, but if a community has a large commercial component such as large-scale tourist attractions or corporate headquarters or major manufacturing, it might show a high per capita tax rate, but a much lower actual tax paid by residents.  And, what’s more, residents should actually want that to happen (I blogged about this briefly at the end of State Surplus Land a few weeks ago and I will return to this topic again sometime in the future).

2.  This presentation is highly misleading.  Residents do not pay property taxes based on the size of their household, which is how the data are presented.  In fact, under Georgian Economics (see Henry George), from which we get our moral justification for property taxes in modern America, property taxes are intended not to be per capita, but ad valorem, because they are supposed to be taking unearned value which is created by the community, not the property owner.  But that’s an aside, since I could go on for hours on the economics and morality of taxation.

Back to the meat of the issue, then.  I’ll illustrate my problem here.  Suppose you have two properties with houses that have the same valuation and the same exemptions, but one is owned by a single person and the other by a family of four.  If we presume the tax is $2000 per property, it might be true to say that the per capita tax assessment of those five people is $800, but it’s very misleading since one of those people is paying $2000 and the other four, $500 each.  Moreover, we would see a rise in the per capita tax assessment if one of the children in the second house went out of county to college, but nobody in their right mind would call that a tax hike.  That makes these numbers very dependent on demographic characteristics of the counties, so that counties with older populations, for instance, would have higher per capita tax levies (since older households tend to be smaller than younger ones) but the actual tax paid might be exactly the same per house.  And if we look at the table, it does indeed tend to be the case that older counties like Collier, Indian River, Sarasota, Lee, Charlotte, Pinellas, Sumter, and Citrus tend to have higher property tax levies per person.

So, let’s dispense with the Per Capita Total Property Tax Levies as an interesting, but on closer inspection largely meaningless statistic.  Far more interesting to me are a few others:

Growth in Total Property Tax Levies 2000-2010 and 2005-2010 and Average Total Property Tax Millage Rates 2010 (rank in parentheses)

  •                               2000-2010         2005-2010         2007-2010         Total Millage
  • Sumter              300.96% (1)         68.38% (1)             19.12% (1)           15.5536 (57)
  • Lake                   116.48% (4)          15.99% (22)         -19.42% (45)        17.7729 (40)
  • Marion                81.23% (23)       16.17% (21)          -19.80% (46)       16.8790 (52)
  • Levy                    80.41% (25)       10.25% (31)          -17.93% (40)       17.8515 (39)
  • Pasco                  75.48% (30)         7.54% (35)          -17.00% (39)      17.6456 (41)
  • Hernando         60.54% (46)        -4.15% (50)          -24.14% (58)       17.0807 (47)
  • Citrus                  58.36% (47)       -3.19% (49)           -21.66% (50)      16.2564 (55)

Seems to me that this illustrates well the story of Central Florida over the past decade.  The impact of The Villages is evident on Sumter and to a lesser extent on Lake.  More interesting to me is the staggering decline in growth of tax levies everywhere and the actual decline in tax levies in Hernando and Citrus Counties over the past 5 years (and then of every county but Sumter over the past 3 years).  And probably more interesting than that is the fact that even over the first half of the decade of the 2000s, Citrus and Hernando had a modest growth rate in property tax levies well below the state average at the same time that they were experiencing population growth rates that exceeded the state average.  If anything, that speaks to the tremendous fiscal discipline shown by those county governments that wasn’t always shared elsewhere in the state or the country.  And, to top it all off, all seven counties in our area have total millage rates in the bottom half of all Florida counties and several mills below the state average.  I leave it as an exercise to the reader whether these numbers indicate excessive taxation.

My conclusion here is that the seven counties of interest here are all cheaper in terms of property taxes (and, actually, all taxes) than the average Florida county, they all have seen good, high-quality growth over the past decade (so they are desirable places), and they all are great places to do business.