For instance, Baltimore collected $815 million in property taxes during the most recent fiscal year, according to Bill Voorhees, Baltimore’s director of revenue and tax analysis. Next year, the figure is predicted to shrink to $803.5 million. The following year, $773 million. The year after that, $735.7 million. The year after that, $729.4 million.
Only in 2016 do city officials anticipate tax revenues increasing again.
“I don’t see any quick fixes over the next four or five years, to be honest,” said Voorhees, noting that Baltimore already faces a budget deficit of more than $50 million next year. “Obviously, it means we have much lower revenues than we had in past. It’s creating gaps in our budget. . . . It’s a very large problem.”
Because many states require officials to reassess properties only every so often — the laws vary widely, but a common time frame is every three years — communities generally see a significant lag time before property taxes reflect the true value of a home.
That’s good news for homeowners during boom times, when their tax bills typically don’t immediately reflect skyrocketing values. It’s not so great during the unprecedented bust of recent years, when many homeowners have protested that their taxes haven’t fallen as rapidly as their property values. But in many places, the assessments are beginning to fall now.
State governments, which rely heavily on sales and income taxes, saw massive hits to their bottom lines early in the crisis as unemployment skyrocketed. But those revenues have begun, ever so slowly, to recover.
Meanwhile, many local governments weathered the early years of the financial crisis in part because the property tax revenues they rely upon so heavily held steady or actually increased as a result of assessments that still reflected inflated prices. Many municipalities are now being forced to recognize the collapse in home prices and the shrinking tax base that comes with it. At the same time, they are seeing state and federal aid dry up.
“We’ll see, over the next few years, the real impact of the recession and housing crisis on local governments,” said Andrew Reschovsky, a professor of public affairs and applied economics at the University of Wisconsin at Madison who has studied the effects of the recession on city finances. “I think the case can be made that we have not yet seen the worst of the impact on local governments. . . . That seems to be accelerating.”
Tighter municipal budgets
Recent statistics provide a window into the ongoing struggles in many cities. Local governments have lost more than half a million employees since the financial crisis hit in September 2008. Through November, local governments had shed an average of 9,300 jobs each month this year, offsetting some of the job growth generated by the private sector.