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Local governments are those closest to citizens, and provide the goods and services required by those citizens: Law enforcement, fire protection, public schools, utilities, streets, sanitation, and many others taken for granted by the typical citizen. Those goods and services are paid for mostly by local revenue, a major portion of which comes from taxes on the value of the real property base. The efficiency with which local revenue is managed impacts every citizen, and the accuracy with which real property assessments are assigned determines tax fairness among those citizens.
Real property appraisal
The property tax, the main own source revenue of local jurisdictions, is an ad valorem tax, meaning "according to value". Since the basis of the tax is property value, the local jurisdiction must have accurate estimates of the value of every property to determine the taxes for each. This function is usually performed by a local official, who may be either elected or appointed. The official has various titles depending upon the location, such as assessor, property appraiser, property valuation administrator, director of real estate, etc. The officeholder title matters little because they all perform the same basic real property appraisal function, and many belong to the professional organization that sets standards for performing the duties of the office, the International Association of Assessing Officers (IAAO). The technical capability to perform the mass appraisal work has steadily improved over the past 40 years to the point where there is no longer a non-political reason why the work cannot be done frequently and accurately. (See AVM Performance)
Property taxes provide the largest own source revenue for local governments. Own source revenue means local autonomy and efficiency. Local governments are creatures of the state - there is no mention of local governments in the Constitution of the United States of America - the U.S. Constitution was an agreement between the 13 states and the new federal government, by which the states granted certain specific powers to the federal government. Property taxes have a long history that has been traced back to ancient times, and was an important revenue source for states until the 20th century, when the general sales tax and income tax became major sources of state revenue. Although state governments now derive practically no revenue from the property tax, they still control the administration of the tax, which can result in property tax limitation decisions that are politically beneficial to state level elected officials but harmful to local revenue and related services.