FLEMINGTON, N.J. — Beverly Smith has lived in the same house in Flemington, N.J., for 48 years. It's not such a quiet neighborhood anymore.
"Not at all," she says. "It used to be a dirt road, and you saw very few cars going by."
But now she says she's being penalized for staying put. As new developments sprout, the value of her three-acre property has outgrown her modest income. Her property tax payment has grown by 42 percent over the last decade.
"I can't afford the things that are being afforded around me," she says. "Even the deer are leaving."
The average American home now costs $191,000, up 12 percent in the last two years. Property taxes are also going up, rising by an average of 10 percent since 2001.
During the economic boom in the 1990s, state governments piled up surpluses, but now they're strapped for cash and have less money to pass on to local governments. So localities are forced to spend more of their own money on police, fire departments and schools.
"We're still on pretty tight strings, so we're continuing to make efforts to provide services with the limited funds that are available," says Bert Waisanen with the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Several states facing budget deficits are considering cutting back or freezing property tax relief programs, such as Wisconsin, with a $32 million deficit; Colorado, with a $148 million shortfall; and New Jersey, which is $4 billion in the red.
Groups representing older homeowners on fixed incomes are fighting to preserve the tax breaks.
But economics professor William Fischel says the policy can create an unfair burden.
"Giving them a break on their taxes doesn't mean they get more money from the state," says Fischel, who teaches at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. "It means that people in the rest of the community have to pay more for their own taxes."
Beverly Smith says her high property taxes are one reason she's now preparing to move.
"Hopefully I won't cry," she says.
She's just one of many Americans facing a taxing burden on their greatest asset — their homes.
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