Property-tax collections are rising at the fastest pace since the U.S. housing market crash sent government revenue plunging, helping end an era of local budget cuts.
In cities including San Jose, California, Nashville, Tennessee, Houston and Washington, revenue from real-estate levies has set records, or is poised to.
Local governments are using the money to hire police, increase salaries and pave roads after the decline in property values and 18-month recession that ended in 2009 forced them to eliminate about 600,000 workers and pushed Detroit, Central Falls, Rhode Island, and three California cities into bankruptcy.
“‘The money is flowing back, but it’s not like an open spigot,” said Rob Hernandez, deputy administrator of Broward County, Florida, where property-tax revenue is set to rise 7 percent this fiscal year, though it remains below earlier peaks. “It’s trickling in.”
Some localities that were hit hardest in the real-estate collapse, such as Clark County, Nevada, haven’t yet rebounded but forecast improvement in the next fiscal year.
Property-tax collections nationally rose to $182.8 billion during the last three months of 2013, when much of the money is due, according to a U.S. Census estimate last month. That topped the previous peak four years earlier, before the decline in housing values reduced revenue.
That increase helped boost collections for the year by 3 percent over 2012. That was the biggest gain since 2009, when revenue climbed 9 percent.
“With cities having increased real-estate tax collections, it will really improve their bottom lines,” said Brooks Rainwater, a director of research for the National League of Cities in Washington.
The financial recovery is easing the risk of credit-rating cuts for local governments, which could increase prices by pushing down yields as a result of less risk.