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Durham and taxes: Where's the beef?

I'm not usually one to put much stock in the political machinations of the Art Pope political machine known as the John Locke Foundation. (Nor do I assume that the Rose's and Maxway's that Pope runs are likely to sell Locke's Second Treatise on Government, which I read to be far less of a pro-conservative mantra than Artie does. But, hey, that's life.)

But I was intrigued to see the Lockies' report on local governmental tax burdens, since Durham always gets the tag of being the high-cost town in the Triangle when it comes to the cost of public services.

Far from being surprising, the report details exactly what one would rationally expect to be the case. First off, there's not a heck of a lot of difference between larger cities in the Triangle when it comes to tax burden. Durham's at $1,991/year, followed closely by Cary at $1,976, with Raleigh weighing in at $1,816.

$185 difference per year between Durham and Raleigh is pretty understandable in light of the far different "base" size of the two counties; Wake has three times the population, but both counties have fixed overhead costs for governmental staff, sheriff and police, fire protection, water delivery and treatment, etc. Only seems natural, after all, to have a higher per-capita cost in the smaller communities.

Of course, level of services and quality of life factor in, too. The Lockies' report notes that Charlotte, Chapel Hill, Wilmington, Asheville and Durham are in the top-five large cities (pop. greater than 25,000) for tax burden.

The bottom five? Jacksonville, Thomasville, Goldsboro, Rocky Mount, and Kannapolis.

If anyone out there can honestly tell me they'd rather live in Jacksonville -- a "city with a hopeless streetlight," as Ryan Adams sang, noting he "was born in an abundance of inherited sadness" -- than in Chapel Hill, Asheville, or Durham... well, I wouldn't believe you, but hey.

At the same time, smaller cities and towns tended to be higher than Durham, or lower, depending on the relative wealth of the community (which, one expects, would drive cost of social services and law enforcement) and based on services provided. In the Triangle, Selma, Smithfield, Siler City and Wendell all came out on the low end. But I also don't see a clamor to move to any of those places.

Worth noting as well that, as a county, Durham places much more emphasis on property tax than sales tax. The JLF ranks Durham County's property tax per capita as 9th in the state, but sales tax paid as a percent of income ranks just 78th out of 100 counties. (Incidentally, the property tax burden as a percent of income ranks 21st out of all counties.)

And while Durham is still in the upper ranks in terms of tax burden by the JLF's measure, the County also happens to rank ninth in the state for per capita income.

All of which serves as a reminder that, at the end of the day, the much-vaunted bite out of the wallet one faces in Durham really isn't the vast difference from our neighbors as some would like to believe.



Once again I disagree. As a business akin to a municipal utility, Durham provides vastly inferior services per dollar paid. By nearly any measure, I might add.

I'm not saying this a bad thing. To extend the New Orleans analogy you made a few blog entries ago, I'd rather have an ineffective yet expensive government than an effective one, ceteris paribus.

Re: other triangle cities...while I don't see many people moving to Siler City, I would certainly be tempted if I had to move. Big hispanic population, low cost of living, combined with a hippie ethos that's bled over from Orange Co....sounds like Durham!


I don't like high taxes any more than anyone else. Less, probably.

But at the same time:
1. Pay $185/year more to live in Durham, and bike to work?
2. Pay $185/year less to live in Raleigh, but thousands more in gas, time, and I-40 stress?

Financially speaking, on the surface at least, this seems easy.


Correct... the services provided Downtown is a JOKE...

Dan R

Durham's corruption has to be addressed-how can a city that has such a high tax burden have such an awful infrastructure?


Does anyone posting here have children? There is a big disparity between public schools in Durham, Chapel Hill, and Wake County. What kind of school system do you get in Durham for your money? I live in Watts Hillandale. Very few of these "progressive liberals" send their children to the public schools. In fact, in my 14+ years in Durham, I've seen many people move out of WHHN to Chapel Hill or Raleigh for better schools. Private education in Durham is a booming business because our tax money does not provide good schools (just look at the expansion of Duke School on Erwin road).


We don't need to rehash this debate, but I disagree that Durham "does not provide good schools".


As much as I do love Durham there are certainly some things where at least compared to our Triangle neighbors they are undeniably better than us. Riding a bike around here sometimes feels like mountain biking almost with the condition of the roads. I must admit to not knowing the details, but from what I understand there has been a 20million dollar approved a while to repave, but aside from some aggressive repaving during the election season I haven't seen anything recently. Main street from brightleaf to 9th street is just pitiful. Is that sceduled to repaved anytime soon? Please someone repave that.


"Main street from brightleaf to 9th street is just pitiful."

Agreed. (I'd extend this east to Five Points, though, due to the current West Village construction.)

Dave N.

I'm thinking the "beef" is that we pay 10% more each year, in exchange for less public safety, less infrastructure maintenance, and lesser schools.

But, heck, I understand the good news is that all these negatives "help" us by keeping our homes from appreciating in value as quickly as our Wake County neighbors' properties!

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