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Northeastern counties shoulder highest tax burden

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(The Center Square) — Pennsylvanian’s paid $22 billion in property taxes statewide in 2021, but the burden was especially heavy in the northeast corner of the state.

On average, the property tax burden was 2.57%, a slight decrease from 2020 thanks to COVID-19 stimulus funds, according to a report from the Independent Fiscal Office.

The highest property tax burden was in Monroe County (4.73%) followed by Pike County (3.81%). The trend was for property taxes to be higher when other tax sources, like income tax, generated less revenue.

The Pocono Mountains, a popular tourist destination, spans both counties.

“The much higher property tax burden in Monroe County is likely due to multiple factors including a relatively higher reliance on school district property taxes (as opposed to earned income taxes) and a relatively high proportion of vacation/secondary homes,” the IFO noted.

The lowest property tax burden was in Snyder County, where residents paid 1.51% of their income in property taxes.

The highest tax burden doesn’t mean the highest tax revenues, however. Monroe County’s rate brought in $434 million, while Delaware County’s 2.98% burden meant $1.39 billion in revenue. Allegheny County had the highest property tax revenues of $2.5 billion, and Cameron County’s $6 million was the lowest.

The IFO pulled data from the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis and Internal Revenue Service, along with data from the Pennsylvania Department of Education and Department of Community and Economic Development for its analysis.

High and low property tax rates tended to cluster.

The top 10 highest property tax burdens were in eastern Pennsylvania, with Monroe, Pike, Wayne, and Northampton Counties bordering one another. The western and central region had some of the lowest burdens, with Snyder, Jefferson, Juniata, and Fayette Counties at the bottom.

Philadelphia, though, stood out.

“The notable exception is Philadelphia, which had the third-lowest property tax burden in the state. This result occurs because the county reported the highest level of personal income while also having a relatively low reliance on school property taxes compared to other counties,” the IFO noted.

Though sometimes overlooked, rural counties generally had higher property tax burdens — a result of having “relatively larger elderly populations and lower per capita income levels.”

Nationally, property taxes are the most important revenue source for local governments, comprising 72% of local tax collections in 2020.

Pennsylvania was 11th-highest for its effective property tax rate, according to the Tax Foundation. The high property taxes in eastern Pennsylvania mirrored the high rates of New Jersey, which had the highest effective tax rate.

“Property taxes are largely rooted in the ‘benefit principle’ of government finance: the people paying the property tax bills are most often the ones benefiting from the services,” Tax Foundation Policy Analyst Janelle Fritts wrote.

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