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.