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WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - If you live in the city of Wilmington, you may sometimes complain about everything from your property tax bill to the cost of parking. A recently-released report analyzing taxes in North Carolina indicates that the overall tax burden in Wilmington is one of the highest in the state.
In fact, broken down per capita, the report says Wilmingtonians have the third highest tax burden in the state, only behind Charlotte and Chapel Hill.
However, Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo says the report, from the fiscally conservative John Locke Foundation, is just plain wrong.
It breaks down total tax revenues per capita for North Carolina cities. Researchers factored in almost all revenue collected by the city and the county in 2010 to try to pinpoint the total cost of local government.
The numbers include everything from property and sales taxes to parking revenue and solid waste fees.
The following is the top 10 list for the large city category:
One important thing to note is that the analysts combined the total tax revenue for the city and county, but only divide it by the number of people living in the city listed above.
Researchers say how cities and counties divide responsibilities varies widely across the state, and this is the best way to show the true cost of local government. Yet, Mayor Saffo says that methodology makes the tax burden for city residents look higher than it actually is.
"I think it's a misinterpretation [of the facts], because 70 percent of the revenues are being collected by the county," said Saffo. "We have no say on those revenues."
While many of the taxes and fees charged to Wilmington residents are out of the city's control, its residents still have to pay them. Analysts applied the same standards to all the cities on the list.
WECT.com contacted Michael Lowrey, the John Locke Foundation policy analyst who wrote the report, about the numbers.
"Really, what citizens are concerned about is the size of their property tax bill, and they are less concerned about who exactly is charging it," he said.
Tourist dollars contribute millions to the local coffers, which helps defray some of the cost from the folks who live here.
On the flip side, room occupancy taxes and hungry parking meters run some tourists away, and a high tax burden could deter some businesses from locating here.
Lowrey says these are all things local governments need to consider. "This report is aimed at starting the discussion," he said.
Joshua Fulton, a former city council candidate and active opponent of using tax dollars for a proposed baseball stadium says this report shows why the city needs to stop taking on more debt. He says high tax burdens hurt both employment growth and population growth.
"It's not tax rate, it's tax burden that's important, because the annual income around here isn't that high," said Fulton. "It's below $30,000, and the amount of money that we spend on local government is really high."
Saffo says he owns a lot of land in the city, and has a vested interest in keeping property taxes and other taxes as low as possible.
"We're going to do everything in our power to hold the line on taxes, and we have, and we've demonstrated that over the years - but at the same time, we've also got to take a look at the long range issues that face our community, especially with infrastructure," the mayor told WECT.com.
The mayor says there were some financial transactions related to the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority that unfairly affected Wilmington's ranking.
Michael Lowery stands by the report, and says lots of cities have unusual circumstances. He says he applies the same methodology to each city, and the numbers are what they are.
Copyright 2012 WECT. All rights reserved.