Local tax comparison

Take this with a big grain of salt, as the study comes from the right-wing John Locke foundation (who are constantly in the papers, in spite of the fact that they have shown that ideology trumps ethics in their "research").

According to the Locke Foundation, the per person tax burden in other towns amounted to:
[- $2,424 Holly Springs;]
- $2,198 in Morrisville;
- $2,055 in Chapel Hill;
- $1,991 in Durham;
- $1,976 in Cary;
- $1,945 in Hillsborough;
- $1,935 in Carrboro;
- $1,891 in Knightdale;
- $1,875 in Wake Forest;
- $1,866 in Fuquay-Varina;
- $1,816 in Raleigh
- $1,795 in Clayton;
- $1,771 in Garner;
- $1,754 in Apex;
- $1,685 in Smithfield;
- $1,642 in Wendell;
- $1,566 in Siler City; and
- $1,355 in Selma.

- newsobserver.com | Report: Holly Springs tax burden is region s highest, 1/29/08

The most obvious problem is that they are taking the average per capita, instead of the average per dollar of income. What else is wrong or right here?



this information was released, they just divided the total number of taxes collected by the population, mixing in the results from business taxes with personal taxes.  That would explain why Morrisville taxes look high: there's a lot of businesses in that district. 

I have no idea if that's what happened here. 

extended to its ludicrous limits:

ALL of rural NC is linked to Some NC town.

for example:

1.live in Bear Creek/work at UNC Hospitals.

2.live near Jordan Lake/work near RTP.

3.live in Carrboro/work statewide.

where one lives/registers to vote/pays taxes does

not determine ones expectation of services from

the work location, so deriving benefit from proximity

to CH/C/OC is in the "eye of the beholder" or tax collector.





It's at least interesting that the two towns at the top of the list are also the two fastest growing areas in Wake County now.  But development pays for itself!

Here is the link to the actual report from the John Locke Foundation:


The actual report contains some raw data that may have not come across in the News and Observer article.  It is interesting to see how Orange County compares to other NC municipalities. 

I wish taxes here were like Maryland, where part of the State Income Tax is guaranteed to come back to the County. We had no Car Tax, no annual car inspection (emissions every two years).

As it stands now, our income tax goes into black holes like the DOT, Dell and the Parton Theater instead of silly things like libraries, feeding the poor, helping children and immigrants.

Why is it okay to help only companies and not real people?

I have no problem with our taxes in Chapel Hill. I would rather live here than anywhere else.  

--Freedom is not just another word

I totally agree. I used to live in New Hampshire, where all we had were property taxes (and not very high ones at that). Needless to say, our parks stunk, there was absolutely no "frivolous" spending on things like paving roads that weren't completely full of potholes, and anytime a new sidewalk was put in people complained.

I'm definitely glad to be somewhere now where people are willing to pay for a higher standard of living.

After hearing from people about how expensive the property taxes are in Chapel Hill, I recently did an estimate on how much money I'd save by moving into rural Orange County.  Using the tax rates posted n the county website, the savings came to around $900 a year, which to me at least seems hardly much of a difference given how much we like living within the city limits.  

Has anyone else actually looked at the numbers?  I hear people say they know people who are moving out of town, or live somewhere else because of the Chapel Hill taxes, but when I actually run the numbers there's not much difference.  Its possible I've messed up the calculations, so has anyone else actually researched this?

If you go to the County tax website at


and pull up your tax bill, you can see the breakout.

Thanks for pointing out this resource, Fred! I never knew the County would let you look up anyone's tax bill online. It's almost as fun as checking out the size and price of folks' homes at http://gis.co.orange.nc.us/land/search.asp. ;-)



--Freedom is not just another word

It would be an interesting exercise to put a dollar value on the services received from the town, rather than that I just like the quality of life here better. I rent, but I'm sure that every penny of Chapel Hill's taxes get passed on to me indirectly. Our property generated $897.19 for the town last year, which split among me and my three room mates is about $225 more I pay over the course of a year.

But, on the other hand, if I didn't live within walking/biking/transit distance of most everything I go to, I'd have to buy another car rather than being able to share one with my partner. Fuel, maintenance, inspections, insurance, and tax on that car would now be a major part of my budget. My renters insurance would go up without the additional fire protection resources of the town. I'd probably be buying more books off of Amazon as they'd be less likely to be in the library (ignore my UNC library access for a moment). Without a police substation thirty seconds from my house, a more paranoid version of myself might be shelling out the money on a home security system. I'd be shelling out quite a bit more for private recreational facilities. And who knows how much more it would cost for those things that public works runs, from dealing with trash to mosquito control.

Everyone's budget is different, but in my case, I'd imagine the local tax rate could triple before it would even begin to be cheaper to do without, even at the current level of services. Some day when I have the time, I'd love to do a comparison of how much more I'd be spending without town services, even just of the essentials in my life.

Czei, I calculate that your tax bill would be lower by about $1,658 if you lived in a comparably tax-valued property on Mt. Sinai Road or about $1,145 lower if you lived on Whitfield Road (the difference being the Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools district tax).  

So the differnce is about $100 to $125 per month for living in town versus in unincorporated Orange County.

But then you would not have city garbage collection, city fire protection or the myriad of other amenities you mentioned.  Also you would not have public water and sewer service.  Those are trade-offs that suit some, but not others.

It is notable though that the numbers would be 2 or 3 times higher for people who live in homes valued more like $500,000 or $750,000 (which there are quite a few of in town).

When the nothern areas were annexed, the only noticble added service for my neighborhood was garbage collection which was less than $250/Year at that time. Fire was a small tax surcharge covered by New Hope fire deptartment. Police was provided by Orange County Sheriffs department. I saw them almost everyday in the neighborhood. Recyle was also covered by Orange County. OWASA already provided service into our neighborhood. We were also already in the Chapel Hill/Carrboro school district. I found that contacting both Orange County departments before annexation and Carrboro departments after annexation easy and all were very responsive.
I only mentioned OWASA service because there is no water or sewer on Mt Sinai or Whitfield, which happen to be the two places I used for the comparison above.  Obviously its very possible to live outside town limits and have OWASA service.
When moving to the triangle in 1989, there was about a 20 to 25% difference in the cost of like housing between North Raleigh and Chapel Hill/Carrboro. I do not know the difference today but in comparing tax rates I think it is also important to understand differences in home values (actually valuation). They combine to create the actual property tax burden. Looking only at tax rates is misleading.
... and also possible to live WITHIN town limits and NOT have OWASA's sewer service.

About two years ago, as part of the heavy discussion of the annexations

into Carrboro of the northern neighborhoods, I wrote a post.

It is relevant to the theme of this thread "what you get for your taxes

depending on exactly where you live".  Since our cast of characters has

changed somewhat, I restate the old post:


I volunteer to be the heavy.  No one wants to be annexed.  Whenever a residential area is proposed for annexation, its residents line up at town hall and recite "What do we get for our property tax increase?  We get bus service which we don't use, and garbage collection which we now handle privately for 15 dollars per month."


In the middle 1980s, Ed Vickery, a local attorney and outspoken Chapel Hill council member, after sitting through several annexation public hearings, got so irritated the he spoke up frankly.  He said that he wanted to say something that needed to be said, and though it would make him quite unpopular, he didn't mind because he wasn't running for another term.


Ed began  "There is a population of people who center their lives on Chapel Hill.

They work here, they shop here, they recreate here, they send their kids to school and various programs here, and they use town services.  But they choose to live just outside the town, often primarily to avoid paying town property taxes.  Even real estate ads tout that the buyer can enjoy the benefits of Chapel Hill but avoid its taxes.

When an annexation is proposed, the to-be-annexed people scream that there's nothing in it for me, only higher costs".  Ed then said boldly to the speakers "You've been enjoying the benefits of Chapel Hill for free, and now we're asking you to pay your fair share".  Mr. Vickery made few friends that night, but he got the message correct.


I would add this.  Anyone who bought a house in Highlands, Camden, or the other neighborhoods knew at the time they bought their homes, or could have known with a phone call, that they would eventually be annexed, indeed annexed into Carrboro.

Chapel Hill and Carrboro have done a superb job in defining their regions of future growth, and have presented this information publicly, consistently, and with generous advance warning.


I will point out a couple of things.

1) When I moved into the Highlands I was never informed along with many others that we were part of a district that would be annexed into Carrboro at some point. I will actually take the blame for my own ignorance. And now I know enough to ask the question. It may also me of interest that NC is one of the few states that allows involuntary annexation. Again my ignorance, my fault.

2) When the annexation was announced, 100% of the Highlands signed a petition, all signitures noterized, to be annexed into Chapel Hill instead of Carrboro. The main thrust was that the Highlands was and is geographically situated such that the population spends much more time in Chapel Hill taking far more advantage of the amenities of Chapel Hill than of Carrboro. So instead of tax avoidence the neighborhood was asking for a voice to whom it would pay its "fair" share.

Your characterization is somewhat unfair in this case.


PS. Your whole arguement is that one who lives near the town takes advantage of the town; ergo should pay taxes to the town. While it has some validity, that arguement results in continuing expansion of a town ad infinitum. The result will finally be that the whole population of the County will eventually reside in one of the towns. Or maybe that should happen right away.


I have tried to get at that exact point, but this much clearer and better put.  If people really don't want to be a part of our community why don't they live in Alamance or Johnston County?

Ruby, your comment was beneath you since those kind of comments are always derogatory and lead to stereotypes. One can always fill in a different group and and place in that line. I now live in Chatham. The move was made to align my priorities with my retirement.

I expect better.

Joe nails it. From what I've seen in the area, I believe that a lot of the annexation/fringe issues would disappear if it was not possible for someone to live in the County and send their children to CH-C Public Schools.

When I see the free rider problem expressed in a real estate add, it's usually cheerfully promoting "city schools, county taxes!" Line up those boundaries one way or the other, and I think you'll see fewer gripes about annexation.

I actually live outside of Carrboro, and I know that one day I'll get annexed.  I didn't make my neighborhood decision based on taxes, but I have neighbors who did.  If CH-C schools weren't available to them, I think some of them would actually move, so your point about keeping who pays for services and who receives them more or less in line is an excellent strategy.

 If there's a gripe to be made about annexation practices, its that it sometimes feels (rightly or wrongly) like the towns are going after "revenue targets of opportunity".  I'm vaguely aware that Chapel Hill and Carrboro have an integrated planning map that designates which town will get what chunk of farmland, after its bulldozed, built-up and planted with thirsty turf grass.  Why not, as a previous poster proposed, annex everything now that you think you might eventually want?  That way, people don't get lured into neighborhoods on the edge of town with the promise of low taxes and convenient access to shopping, only to get annexed three years later after they've had a chance to get used to the low taxes.  When this happens it results in residents who thought they were getting a sweet deal (ie low taxes, good services and relatively convenient access) instead getting a lousy deal (ie taxes at the same rate as the true city-dwellers, but still having to drive to get to shopping and work).  If these fringe areas were annexed prior to being developed, prospective home buyers could make more rational decisions about where to live.   And it might even slow the drive to develop areas just outside town limits, which feeds the pattern of suburban sprawl we all claim to dislike, but that so many of us (including me) contribute to.  

I think there may be a law that regulates the ability of towns to annex areas, and I think that law might require certain population densities, but I don't know if this is actually true.  Perhaps someone who does know could chime in?


Here is a map of the areas that may one day be parts of Chapel Hill and Carrboro:


The ETJ areas and the Transition Areas are potential annexation areas.  Most of the University Lake Watershed and all of the Rural Buffer will remain outside town limits.

You are correct that state law requires minimum densities, amounts of contiguity etc. in order for towns to involuntarily annex adjacent areas.


yes, absent a 100% petition for annexation or an annexation by local bill, for a town the size of Chapel Hill or Carrboro to annex requires either (i) a density of 2.3 persons per acre; (ii) one person per acre plus meeting certain development criteria, or (iii) a certain development criteria that are even more stringent.  see http://www.ncleg.net/EnactedLegislation/Statutes/HTML/BySection/Chapter_160A/GS_160A-48.html

 Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools have absolutely nothing to do with either the Town of Chapel Hill or the Town of Carrboro, other than location (and, of course, 1,500 or so Chapel Hill residents are in the Durham County school district.)



You've lived here long enough to know that many of us live outside of town because we can't afford to live inside. I bought my house because I don't want to drive from Chatham or northern Orange County to work everyday. But I am also not willing to spend half my monthly income on housing. So I live where there is an intersection of my needs and the physical realities of housing in southern Orange County. That is a value consistent with what you and others are promoting for Carolina North so why ignore it in the context of this discussion?

There are other ways for the towns to make up for revenue shortfalls, especially since we all know that residential development doesn't pay unless those homes are large and expensive (over $350,000 by county calcuations).
Looking at most of the recent literature on this, I've yet to see a study showing that large lot luxury pays for itself in services. Puget Sound's Regional Council has a run-down (PDF) of several of the major "costs of sprawl" studies that have taken place over the last 10 years or so, and while far from unanimous, the findings tend to support an assertion that it is all but impossible for residential growth to pay for itself, although the deficit for communities is generally worse for more suburban, lower-density development patterns.

I'm not sure I follow that logic.  Existing houses being annexed into town do not create the same sort of tax burden that new construction does.  Existing houses generate school children no matter where the town lines are.  When Orange County says that $350K houses are about the break-even point, the County is considering the cost of schools - which are of course not a part of the town budget.

In any case, as I said above, in southern Orange Co, the towns generally annex because they can and because it is called for in the Joint Planning Agreement, not as a solution to supposed "revenue shortfalls."

The presentation that was provided by Carrboro before the hearings on the annexation of the northern areas offered a cost versus revenue analysis. That analysis clearly showed that costs of annexation were far exceeded by the new tax revenues. (Maybe that presentation is archived somewhere.) In fact, Carrboro was able to forgo a tax rate increase that year due in large part to the annexation.
Definitely.  The tax revenues exceeded the costs of annexation, but the annexation was not inspired by a "revenue shortfall."

Some people can't afford to live in town, no matter how they change their lifestyle or spending behavior. And some choose not to live in town because they would rather have a larger house, bigger yard, more money for eating-out, shopping, etc.. But I would hardly classify the latter as not able to afford it. Point--there's unable-to-afford-period and then there's unable-to-afford-and-still-have-money-for-other-things-I-enjoy.

When the price of gas rises enough, traffic is congested enough, and the globe warm enough, then priorities might shift and more people will be able to "afford" living in town.

Whoa, wait a minute. 

1.  People who live in the county and school district, but not in either town proper, are not somehow deriving an "unfair" benefit from the town.  First of all, none of your ( or my) town tax money even goes to the school system.  The schools are supported by COUNTY taxes and by the supplemental district tax, which every property owner in the school district pays. So those "county taxes, city schools"  residents pay exactly the same amount for schools as those of us who live in the Chapel Hill or Carrboro town limits.    

2.  OWASA is  a private utility and neither town contributes any money towards its operations.   People who are serviced by OWASA pay the full ride of that service.   Again,  your city tax dollars aren't being used there, and being in either city is no guarantee of getting OWASA service.  Neither town has any mandate to provide water/sewer to any of us.  

3. People who live outside the area, but send their kids to  parks and rec classes in town, pay a higher fee to do so than town residents. 

4. We don't charge admission to our public parks, or a toll for our bike paths, but neither does Duke for me to walk  through Duke Forest, nor does Chatham County charge me to watch the eagles at Jordan Lake. 

So what are these things  that non-residents are so heavily consuming and benefiting from, but not paying for? 

 Before we demonize those people and require them to pay an admissions fee to grace our fair streets,  we at least ought to get our facts straight.  

I buy organic food and expensive eyeglasses because they are worth the extra money to me.   I live in Chapel HIll because the cost/benefit ratio  tilts more toward benefit for me.    I imagine other people make the same calculations, and maybe they come up with different choices because they have different priorites.   To say they are trying to "enjoy the benefits of Chapel Hill for free"   isn't a very nice way to characterize our neighbors, and  probably isn't very accurate either.  

Looking at it another way,  I suspect that there are people in Chatham or Alamance counties who honestly think that Chapel Hill wants to keep out poor people by keeping the cost of living so high. 

 Anita Badrock (sorry I keep forgetting to sign in before I type).

Hi Anita:

I think you make several very good points.  Number 1 and 2 in particular are informative to me.  I don't use the public school system and hence don't pay very much attention to it, and as a well-and-septic house with plenty of land, I've never paid much attention to OWASA (except when my mother, who lives in downtown Chapel Hill, gripes about it, which she does regularly and at great length).

 As for kids park fees and camps, etc., the system seems pretty fair, as you point out.  I might disagree a little bit with you on point 4 concerning access to parks and such, but I don't think this is anywhere near the heart of the matter anyway.  My son plays at CH-C parks fairly regularly, and is undoubtedly free-riding on amenities that wouldn't exist without townspeople paying for them, but the dollar value of our use CH-C parks is probably negligible, and I doubt anyone minds.

 Where things start to get interesting, though, is when I drive (gasp!) into Carrboro for lunch, park for free in the municipal parking place, walk on the municipal sidewalk to the corner of a freshly swept N. Greensboro and Weaver, and wait for the city-funded pedestrian crosswalk sign to tell me its safe to cross, which it does with electricity paid for by the city.  When I get to WSM and plunk down $6 for my salad (I always get too much cottage cheese), some miniscule amount of it may eventually find its way into the town Treasury, but I doubt it can be enough to cover my share of the infrastructure.  

I come to Carrboro to eat and shop and socialize because its a nice place full of nice people, and I recognize that it didn't get that way by accident or for free.  Its safe for me to cross N. Greensboro St. because Carrboro pays somebody to maintain the crosswalk sign.  And there's free parking available to me because Carrboro decided to build a municipal lot, and forego property taxes they could have reaped by selling the land for development.

All the infrastructure I use would undoubtedly exist whether I was using it or not, and to an extent the town benefits from my presence and my spending.  But a town is a cooperative venture based on the notion that the common good is best served through a coordinated pooling of resources, and the intelligent use of those resources to build and maintain essential infrastructure.  I use that infrastructure on a daily basis, and it isn't unreasonable for Carrborites to expect me to pay my fair share.

With that said, the other side of the coin is that my house sits on 3 acres of otherwise undeveloped forestland that feeds directly into University Lake.  By my calculation,  my property has contributed over 3 million gallons of good, clean water to the CH-C water supply since January 1, 2007, and keeping me happily out in the provinces helps to protect this resource.  So at least to an extent, it cuts both ways.

(It occurs to me, Anita, that we should take this show on the road.  I'll say, "Raise my taxes!", and you'll say "No way!"  With that kind of schtick, we could probably get a segment on Fox News as "those wacky Chapel Hill liberals!")






Once we have a John McCain Presidency (I hear Nader is thinking about running again), we can institute a more regressive tax structure. Then you can pay $7 for your salad while the money is syphoned off to the Feds too.

I personally oppose property and sales taxes, but those are the only two choices our localities are given. I find the tax on non-prepared food the most offensive of all.

I don't understand the opposition to an Income/Capital Gains tax to benefit localities. That way everyone kicks the same percentage whether they own property or not.

Of course, I know that I am alone on that island, but I don't mind paying my fair share as long as everyone else (including large corporations and Randy Parton) does.

I know I am a little off-topic, but if this really is about fairness shouldn't our County Commissioners and Town Councils be given a full quiver instead of the broken arrows of property taxes, transfer taxes and sales taxes?

I would much rather have Barry Jacobs and Kevin Foy spending a piece of my Income Tax (as they would in Maryland) than have it all go into funding an Interstate to nowhere or an "Entertainment Destination."


--Freedom is not just another word

And when gas prices rise enough to make people want to move to town where are they going to live?  Are they going to set up tents on Polk Place and the lawn at Weaver St Market?  More people wanting to live here will just increase demand and raise home prices even more, especially since home supply increases so slowly.

This is the first time I’ve taken part in the new OP so I hope I get this in the right place.  I live in the recently annexed area.  I’ve thought a lot about this issue and the boundary lines people draw for towns and between towns.  Often there seems to be little reason for them.  For example, I live in Carrboro but I can’t get out of my driveway without going into Chapel Hill.  I’ve written about this in various places.  The thing I realized rather late in the game is- once we were annexed by Carrboro, we were getting a lot fewer services from the County.  So, why didn’t our County taxes go down?  Taking it a step further everyone who lives in an incorporated town supports services for County residents that don’t live in incorporated areas through their County taxes.  This is particularly troubling to me as we get expensive developments in the CHC school district that are outside the town limits.  The posters here are right that people who live in these houses pay the special school district tax but being in the school district seems to engender expensive development.

Jim Rabinowitz

I thought ya’ll might enjoy the following highlights from the 50 residences for sale on the MLS in the Chapel Hill School District that are outside town limits.  Of the 50 of them, 16 do not mention the school district or the property’s proximity to town/UNC.  The other 34 seem to make quite a point of capitalizing on the benefits of being just outside town:


Chapel Hill schools! LOW county taxes! . . . Located in county so close to town. . . .Chapel Hill schools;county taxes . . .CH schools, walk to McDougle school . . . CH schools. . . .w/in the CH school district! . . . Great location near UNC in school district. County taxes. . . .CH schools. . . Minutes to UNC . . . Convenient to UNC  . . . 4 miles from downtown Carrboro, easy commute to Chapel Hill. . . . Enjoy lower taxes, yet in new Carrboro High School district. Original kitchen & baths need updating. . . .easy commute to UNC. CH schools. County taxes. . . .CHAPEL HILL SCHOOLS, GREAT AREA! . . .minutes from UNC! Low county taxes + High quality city schools = a great deal! . . . Great location. Right behind new elementary school. . . . Oh, in CH Schools 2! . . . near new Southern Park. . . . convenient to Chapel Hill/Carboro. Chapel Hill High School, walking distance to the new elementary school, easy commute to UNC, shopping, and schools (short drive to the Park and Ride on Eubanks). . . . Easy commute to schools, shopping, restaurants! . . .WALK/BIKE TO NEW CARRBORO ELEMENTARY #10! EASY ACCESS to UNC. . . . renowned Chapel Hill School district* . . . in the School District. . . . in Chapel Hill schools(ECHHS).Close to UNC  . . . desirable Chapel Hill school district close to Chapel Hill, Carrboro & UNC with county taxes! . . . Chp Hill School district. So close to town  . . . New High School in '08. . . . Not annexed yet but CH/Carrboro schools and city water/sewer. . . . City Schools,COUNTY TAXES.fIRST FLOOR MASTER . . . backs to NC Arboretum land  . . . just minutes from UNC. . . . convenient to schools, shopping, major roadways  . . . only minutes from downtown; in CH/CRB school district. . . .  Minutes to town. Chapel Hill Schools.


And then there is this possibly over-reaching example:


Doublewide trailer on 5.41 private acres w/Chapel Hill Address and Chapel Hill City Schools. . . .


Interestingly, I also notice two other selling points that are consistently mentioned by Realtors in the ads listed above (although I didn’t try to collect the data): Energy efficiency and proximity to conservation lands (Duke Forest, Arboretum, Triangle Land Conservancy etc.)

I do not how true it is today. Maybe a professional could answer for today. When looking for a house in 1989, there was a distinct difference in home values between being inside or outside the Chapel Hill/Carrboro school district.

Being inside or outside the town lines was not a difference maker.

II don't understand why realtors don't promote the fare free bus system more than they do.   I think that is an extremely valuable and tangible benefit of  living in Chapel Hill/Carrboro.  It certainly impacts rental values.  Properties on a bus line rent for more than comparable ones not on the bus route.   

AND if you've ever had to ferry around pre-teen kids,  you quickly come to appreciate helping them learn to navigate the bus system and get around on their own.   My kids rode the city bus system a lot when they wanted to go somewhere after school or on the weekends.   They liked it---they met interesting people and developed some independence.


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