Monday, August 4, 2008

Comparative Millage Rates and Taxation

We hear often in Mt Lebanon that our taxes are high. Most people probably don't think about what it means, it is just taken as fact and not questioned. I sometimes hear statements like, "I live in Mt Lebanon and will pay higher tax for the good schools and the services the municipality offers". Most people would say that the services they get are worth the tax. I would assume that to be the case or else they wouldn't have chosen to live here in the first place.

I went to the County Treasurer's online office and did some digging around to find out exactly where we fall when it comes to total tax burden. I wanted to get an idea about not just school taxes but County and Municipal taxes as well. I found the exercise interesting and will present it to you here with some thoughts.

The image below is taken from data collected at the Allegheny County Treasurer's Office:

Click on image for larger picture

I picked each of the townships and school districts above for one reason or another. Either they are geographically close to Mt Lebanon, often compared academically to Mt Lebanon, or their millage rates are similar to ours. You can see that our School District Tax is towards the higher end of the scale. You would find the same thing if you compared us to every District in the County. Twelve of the 45 school districts on the Allegheny County website have higher millage rates than Mt Lebanon. Thirty-two have lower school district millage rates. One thing I would like to add to the chart is the Wage Tax for each community. It is not as easily available as the other tax information and will have to come in a later revision to this data.

While I agree with those that say they get good value for their tax money in Mt Lebanon, it is important to remember that in order to stay competitive in attracting residents to our community, we need to ensure that our total taxes stay within a tight range with the other townships that are trying to attract those same residents. Potential residents will do calculations to figure out what the true cost of living is in each community they consider. They can get a $200,000 house in Mt Lebanon and pay $6700 per year in RE taxes. Or they could buy a house for $225,000 in USC and pay the same $6700 in tax. What this means to me is that you can afford a bit more house for the same money in USC compared to Mt Lebanon. That doesn't mean you get the same services, the same education, or the same sense of community. It is simply a piece of the bigger puzzle when folks try to figure out where to live. The larger the discrepancy in the total taxation numbers, the more likely they are to give more weight to those numbers when making their final decision.