The John Locke Foundation in Raleigh reports that the City of Burlington’s tax burden is one of the lowest in the state. Policy analysts Michael Lowrey and Erik Root coauthored the study, which used the most recent data available from the State Treasurer, the Census Bureau, and the Bureau of Economic Analysis to construct rankings of local government cost on a per-person basis — as well as, for counties, a share-of-income basis. The City is ranked 21 out of 25. Out of 24 cities with at least 25,000 residents, Hickory, Durham, Wilmington, Cary, and High Point rounded out the top six in combined costs per person. Gastonia, Rocky Mount, Kannapolis, Burlington, Goldsboro, and Jacksonville ranked lowest in taxes and fees. Military factors in two of the above are obvious reasons for their low tax burdens. This report is based on 2002-2003 budget figures. The report states that services ranging from garbage pick-up to recreation programs to a senior center make government more expensive, but are often things that people want. The City of Burlington provides these services while maintaining a low-tax burden. The City of Burlington has the only full-time fire department in the county. Services should be compared to what the tax rate is. The amount of money that one spends on taxes should balance out the services that are being provided. Burlington City Councilmembers available for comment had this to say:
Mayor Stephen Ross:
“The article did not surprise me. We constantly evaluate to find more efficient ways to operate, and we do at the lowest rate. I don’t want to be the lowest. I want to be the best and most efficient at an affordable rate. An example would be up staffing police by 21% without a cost to residents. In light of difficult times, we have been able to streamline and reorganize and still rank 21 out of 25 for the lowest tax burden. We owe it to the staff. They are the ones going the extra mile.”
Councilmember Don Starling:
“The Council attempts to provide the best services as economically as possible. Our job is much easier because of the employees. City Manager Harold Owen and employees work very hard using the resources given to them to provide services at a reasonable cost. City Manager Owen, department heads and employees work well together to provide excellent service at a low cost. The Council and citizens of Burlington are indebted to our employees for their attitude to serve the City.”
Councilmember David Maynard:
“I find this report very gratifying. These results are possible because the citizens have trusted our leadership to have innovative ideas and plans for service and development.”
Councilmember David Huffman:
“This recognition is particularly complimentary as Burlington has continued to provide a full complement of quality services to its citizens. Many municipal and county governments maintain a low tax rate by either intentionally not providing needed services to their citizens or by failing to financially plan for their town’s future needs, hoping that the state or federal government will shower ‘grant money’ on them when a foreseeable crises arises.”
Burlington has tried to avoid being penny wise and pound-foolish. Thus far, the City has been able to keep the tax rate low, all the while planning for future capital and operational needs. It is important to recognize that Burlington also has an exceptionally low bonded indebtedness, which would only serve to pass the financial burden of today’s services to future generations of our citizens.
This recognition is truly a tribute to City Manager Harold Owen and City staff. Efficiency has been their focus.