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By Bill Wichert November 2, 2011

Essex County’s property taxes among highest in the nation

Essex County residents have a second-place finish to marvel at -- only it’s not one they may be too happy about.

In his bid to unseat county Freeholder Leonard Luciano, Republican candidate Joseph Chiusolo pointed to the county’s high property taxes in an Oct. 25 press release.

In fact, according to Chiusolo, "Essex County residents suffer the second highest property taxes in the nation."

PolitiFact New Jersey found that Chiusolo’s statistic was accurate to some degree. In terms of property taxes paid as a percentage of the median household income, Essex County ranks second in the nation.

But when two other types of measurements are considered, Essex County is up there, but not second.

"The bottom line is, if you’re sixth or two, the taxes are high," Chiusolo told us. "People out there are hurting."

Let’s explain where Chiusolo received his numbers.

Chiusolo, the deputy mayor of Cedar Grove, referred us to data compiled by the Washington, DC-based Tax Foundation, a business-backed group that studies tax policy. The data represents five-year averages for the period between 2005 and 2009.

For that time period, the Tax Foundation ranked property taxes in owner-occupied homes in counties according to three measurements: median property taxes paid; taxes as a percentage of the median home value; and taxes as a percentage of the median household income. Each statistic comes with a margin of error.

On that last measurement, Essex County ranked second among 2,922 counties with property taxes representing about 8.04 percent of the median household income. The only county above Essex was neighboring Passaic County, where property taxes were about 8.44 percent.

So, Chiusolo is right on that point, but according to those two other measurements, Essex County didn't score as high.

Essex County’s median property tax bill was about $7,489, ranking it sixth in the nation. At about 1.9 percent of the median home value, Essex County ranked 92nd.

Thomas Ammirato, a consultant working on Chiusolo‘s campaign, pointed out how an earlier press release specified that the ranking refers to the percentage of income. But we told Ammirato that this fact-check is based on the Oct. 25 press release.

Still, Chiusolo’s overall point is accurate that Essex County has some of the highest property taxes in the nation -- and as far as other New Jersey counties, it’s not alone.

Among the top 10 counties for the five-year average of median property taxes paid, seven of them are in New Jersey: Hunterdon, Bergen, Essex, Somerset, Morris, Union and Passaic.

One of the major factors behind the rankings is the high property values in New Jersey, according to Mark Robyn, an economist with the Tax Foundation.

Kim Rueben, who directs the state and local program of the nonpartisan Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center, added that part of the reason for high property taxes in the Garden State is that a lot of money to pay for local schools comes from property taxes.

New Jersey also has more generous government services than other states, Rueben said.

"It’s a high government-service state," Rueben said. "New Jersey has relatively high taxes and relatively generous public spending."

Our ruling

In a press release, Chiusolo claimed "Essex County residents suffer the second highest property taxes in the nation."

That’s true if you’re looking at property taxes as a percentage of the median household income. But Essex County’s property taxes rank sixth and 92nd according to two other measurements. We rate the statement Half True.

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Our Sources

Double Dipper Freeholder Luciano -- Does He Even Pay Property Taxes?, Oct. 25, 2011

Tax Foundation, Property Taxes on Owner-Occupied Housing, by County, Ranked by Taxes Paid, 2005 - 2009 (five-year average), May 16, 2011

Tax Foundation, Property Taxes on Owner-Occupied Housing by County, 2005 - 2009, Ranked by Taxes as Percentage of Home Value (One year averages), Sept. 28, 2010

The Star-Ledger, Average N.J. property taxes in 2010 jump more than 4 percent from previous year, March 11, 2011

CNNMoney, Who pays the most in property taxes?, May 19, 2011

Phone and email interviews with Joseph Chiusolo, Oct. 26 and 28, 2011

Interview with Kim Rueben, Tax Policy Center, Oct. 27, 2011

Interview with Mark Robyn, Tax Foundation, Oct. 27, 2011

Email exchange with Rodolfo Telles Jr., U.S. Census Bureau, Oct. 28, 2011

Email exchange with Thomas Ammirato, a consultant to Joseph Chiusolo’s campaign, Oct. 28, 2011

Here is the press release cited by Ammirato:

Essex Freeholders Continue To Spend Taxpayer Money Despite $11 Million Tax Hike, Sept. 23, 2011

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Essex County’s property taxes among highest in the nation

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