So are taxes lower in the suburbs?

About a week and a half ago, I started "setting the table" for what could be a topic of discussion during the upcoming citizen budget forums by talking about the potential for tax increases, also known by its less incendiary name, "revenue enhancement," or its Simpsonized name, "temporary refund adjustments."

That sparked a nice little conversation in the comments when It's Our Money reader NHB, not to be confused with pop culture favorite NPH, wrote the following:

A quick snapshot of my family's finances while looking for a home in Montgomery County instead of in our current Northwest Philadelphia area(Mount Airy): Property Taxes increase roughly $2000 a year (to $4200 from $2200) and wage taxes are reduced to $0 from our family's current $4640 a year. And this is before the threats of any more increases in either the wage or property tax camoe to fruition. Not to mention improved schools, less crime, and better overall community services. Anybody with a good reason why my family should stop looking in Montco? I'd love to hear it. Oh yeah, and buying that $220000 house in Mt. Airy? Tack on $6600 in title transfer fees that add about $40 a month to your mortgage debt (i.e.- $15000 over the life of an average 30yr. loan. Not Buy Buy Philly... more like Bye Bye Philly.

Further down the page, another commenter responded by referring to a website called Sperling's Best Places which allows users to scope out potential places to live and compare them based on living expenses and tax rates.  This website seems to indicate that for many of the townships or boroughs that I arbitrarily picked, the combination of federal, state and local taxes was as high or almost as high as for Philadelphia.  The site seems to have its limitations, nor does it break down exactly where it gets that information so I'm not going to recommend it as the authority on this subject.

However, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, at the Department of Community and Economic Development website, has a neat little tool that allows the user to choose a municipality and run a complete report that shows whether residents or workers are subject to any kind of earned income tax, and what kind of taxes homeowners pay.  For example, this report about West Whiteland Township, a place where I was once employed but was never a property owner, shows an earned income tax of .5 percent for the township and .5 percent for the school district, a total of 1 percent.  Taxes and service fees owed by property owners are also indicated by mills.  According to the report, the total property tax rate in West Whiteland, is 15.9390 mills.  (A mill is amount of tax per thousand dollars of property value.  So a property with an assessed value of $500,000 would owe $7969.50 in property taxes.)  One thing to note is that while Philadephia's property tax is 82.64 mills, the assessed values of most properties is much lower than the actual market value so property tax amounts are generally lower.

Play around with making a report of your own but note that because of lags in effective dates, some tax rates may not be 100 percent accurate (ie Philadelphia's property tax is listed as 80.95 mills).  So even though it's a little more complete tha nthe Sperling's Best PlacesWith that in mind, we'll call this "For Entertainment Purposes Only."