Property taxes are used by regional and local governments to pay for public services. Governments may use property taxes to provide utilities, roads, maintenance, emergency services, schools, public hospitals, parks and recreation, museums and other public services. If you look up the local government in your area, you will be able to identify which government entity collects property taxes.
A legal document passed by the state government such as a state constitution gives the government the authority to collect property taxes. In a state constitution, you can find details about the kinds of taxes and rates of taxes that will be collected. A constitution may also include how property taxes will be distributed among state and local governments. Citizens can find out what portion of each dollar collected will go to each branch of government and each type of program.
County and city governments usually collect property taxes on behalf of the state. These taxes are calculated on an ad valorem basis, or as a percentage of the value of your property. Governments can tax both real property--land and buildings--and tangible personal property, such as boats and planes. This revenue is collected at the local level and is forwarded to the state for allocation to all government branches according to the state constitution's guidelines.
In the United States, each state differs in how much authority it gives to local governments to assess their own property taxes. According to the International Handbook of Land and Property Taxation, "the extent to which local governments have control over property taxes is often an important determinant of the extent to which they are able to make autonomous expenditure decisions." Sometimes local governments set up their own special tax districts for limited purposes, such as a special sales tax in the city limits to fund a public hospital.
If you own real properties and tangible properties, it is your responsibility to pay applicable property taxes to the local tax collector. Your county or city government may operate offices in several locations and accept payments by mail and online. To help decide which person will be elected as a local tax collector, you can vote in the next election. This person may work for local government but must follow all state laws for collection and record-keeping. You can also investigate how your property taxes are calculated by studying the process used by the local property appraiser's office.
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