NACo survey shows effects of growth
The United States is experiencing unprecedented economic growth. But do those good economic times trickle down to the nation’s counties, which are facing infrastructure and service demands created by that growth?
That is what the National Association of Counties asked officials from 500 counties in a recent telephone survey assessing county fiscal conditions. Thirty-seven of the responding counties were in the Northeast, 178 in the South, 178 in the Northwest and 107 in the West.
According to the survey, at least 30 percent of the counties surveyed had raised property taxes in each of the last three years. More than 77 percent of those (174 counties) indicated growing expenditures as the reason for raising taxes. (Of those 174 counties, 102 had populations under 10,000.)
Most of the counties (57 percent) that raised property taxes in 1998 raised them between 1 percent and 5 percent, while 14 percent of counties raised them as much as 10 percent. Only 7.5 percent of counties reported raising property taxes more than 10 percent. The 275 counties that had not raised property taxes in the last three years did not do so primarily for two reasons: Their revenues were sufficient to meet their needs, and it was not politically feasible to raise taxes.
To raise additional revenue over the last three years, 35 percent of the counties surveyed indicated that they had implemented fees, while 18 percent implemented sales taxes or added local option sales taxes.
County revenue bond debt ranges from a low of $669 million to $2.39 billion, with three of the five largest counties owing the largest amount. Ninety-three of the 120 counties with populations under 10,000 had no revenue bond debt. Forty-eight percent of all counties surveyed reported no general obligation debt.
In general, 41 percent of the responding counties indicated that their fiscal conditions had improved somewhat during the past year. Thirteen percent saw some deterioration, and 4 percent felt that deterioration was “significant.”
Finally, county officials generally are optimistic about the outlook for their fiscal futures, with just 22 percent indicating pessimism. A majority, however, indicates some degree of nervousness in dealing with additional responsibilities that may devolve from the state and federal governments. Forty-four percent indicated that they were “somewhat” or “very” prepared to assume additional responsibilities.