Sackville Road in Garden City.  (April 26, 2011)

Sackville Road in Garden City. (April 26, 2011) Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

Nassau County is No. 1 -- in property taxation, at least.

New analysis by the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan group based in Washington, D.C., ranks Nassau tops nationwide in median home property taxes. The median amount paid on a Nassau house was $8,478 -- a few dollars higher than the amount paid in Westchester County, which ranked No. 2.

All of the highest-paying counties listed in the foundation's analysis are in either New York or New Jersey suburbs. Suffolk County ranked 12th, with a median property tax of $7,010.

The Tax Foundation's analysis, released last month, is based on property taxes imposed between 2007 and 2009 in counties with populations of 20,000 or more. Since then, property taxes on the Island have continued to rise, outpacing inflation. The foundation is a research group that seeks to encourage taxation systems that are stable and transparent, with relatively low rates.

However, Nassau homeowners don't bear the heaviest tax burden relative to the values of homes. The Tax Foundation gave top ranking in that category to upstate Orleans County.

Homeowners there paid a median tax of $2,610, or 2.99 percent of median home value. In Niagara and Monroe counties, homeowners paid taxes equivalent to more than 2.8 percent of home value. The tax cost to Nassau homeowners is 1.72 percent of home value, which ranks 140th. Suffolk's rank is 178th.

Two prime reasons for high property taxes on Long Island and elsewhere in the state were outlined in a 2008 report by the New York State Commission on Property Tax Relief. The biggest factor was rising school costs, coupled with the state's inability to provide commensurate increases in education aid.

"When you're talking about property taxes on Long Island, you're really talking about school taxes," said Martin Cantor, director of the Long Island Economic and Social Policy Institute at Dowling College.

Anita MacDougall, an Oyster Bay taxpayer activist, says she sees the effects of high tax rates in lagging home sales.

"We're number one? Not a nice place to be," MacDougall said. "There are people who cannot afford to stay in their houses, and they can't sell because nobody wants to take on that tax burden."

The Tax Foundation's study shows that tax bills in metropolitan area suburbs far outstrip those in similar areas across the country. For example, Fairfax County, Va., near the nation's capital, had a median property tax of $4,427 -- barely more than half Nassau's.

Past foundation studies ranked Nassau No. 2 in 2009 and No. 3 in 2007. Tax figures are from U.S. census sample surveys.

So is the Island's tax load too high? Mark Robyn, a Tax Foundation economist, says the answer to that question is a matter of perspective.

"It's high, but it's not at an extreme," Robyn said. "Some people might look at that and say, 'I don't want to live there.' Others might look and say, 'Well, that's part of the cost of living there.' "

In a 2007-09 study, Nassau County ranks first and Suffolk County 12th in median home property taxes among 1,823 counties analyzed nationally by the Fax Foundation.

1. Nassau County, NY - $8,478

2. Westchester County, NY - $8474

3. Hunterdon County, NJ - $8,413

4. Bergen County, NJ - $8,269

5. Rockland County, NY - $8,084

6. Essex County, NJ - $7,801

7. Somerset County, NJ - $7,684

8. Morris County, NJ - $7,507

9. Passaic County, NJ - $7,345

10. Union County NJ - $7,308

11. Putnam County NY - $7,198

12. Suffolk County, NY - $7,010

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