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Compare your tax burden to that of other cities

See for yourself how your local government stacks up with it comes to managing its money wisely.

  • Longboat Key
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“Compared to what?”

That was the question Jim Michaels, late, longtime, fear-inducing editor of Forbes magazine, repeatedly asked when his writers turned in stories full of data about companies and governments.

Michaels drilled into the heads of his writers that reporting numbers and data did no good for readers unless that data gave  context — say, compared one government’s spending to another’s, or one business to its competitors so you could see which was performing better.

Longboat Key snowbird Ed Tiesenga created a tool to help taxpayers compare their burden.

In a similar vein, that’s what struck longtime Longboat Key snowbird Ed Tiesenga. In 2011, as he flew cross-country and looked down at the grids lighting the streets of cities and towns, he began thinking how every municipality taxes its residents in isolation.

Taxpayers know what they’re being taxed in their jurisdictions, but they have little or no knowledge of how their cities or counties compare elsewhere.

After that flight, Tiesenga, who is also an Oak Brook, Ill., tax lawyer and an elected Oak Brook trustee, wrote a memo that became the seed for creating an online national Taxpayer Dashboard.

In a column for The Wall Street Journal, Tiesenga’s partner, Carl A. Miller, described the dashboard as such: It “is the first tool with the power to compare the per-capita taxation, debt and spending — the best proxy for the size and scope of government — for every city in America.”

In short, Tiesenga’s dashboard lets you see how your city or county’s taxation compares to the other 35,000 cities and townships and 3,000 counties in the U.S.

This “unified information,” Tiesenga wrote in 2011, “would allow (people) to choose where to live. 

“If more government spending and growth is a kind of personal turn-on for them, they will want to be where they can support the most government possible … For those interested in more minimal government, they can either move to where the index is lower or take steps to correct too much government where they currently live.”

Tiesenga sees the Taxpayer Dashboard having the potential to ignite a transparency revolution to help taxpayers hold their elected officials and city administrators accountable.

For now, Tiesenga and Miller continue to refine their websites and the data available for taxpayers. Meantime, if you want to see how Longboat Key or Sarasota compares to other cities, such as Tiesenga’s Oak Brook, Ill., or, say, Aspen or wherever you snowbirds live part-time, select one of these URLs and enter your two home addresses:, or

Tiesenga's tool compares local government's relative tax burdens.
Tiesenga's tool compares local government's relative tax burdens.

The results will show your city’s per capita spending, tax revenues and debt burden — the three ingredients that produce a show the “spending pressure” put on taxpayers. Tiesenga’s dashboard will give you a score that tells whether you live in a jurisdiction with a low, moderate or high spending pressure on taxpayers.

As all of our local taxing authorities prepare to adopt their next fiscal year budgets, it’s worth taking the time to see how our elected officials are doing vis-à-vis other communities. 

Consider these spending pressure scores: Longboat Key 74; Aspen, 78; Oak Brook, Ill., 44. 

Not surprisingly, Longboat Key has more spending pressure than Sarasota and Bradenton. That’s worth noting, especially in the context of the town’s proposed budget for 2023-24. 

The town’s general fund spending is proposed to increase 15.6% over the previous year, and total spending, which includes capital spending, is proposed to increase 44.3%.

Meantime, the town manager has proposed lowering the millage rate 6.1%, from 2.1144 to 1.985.     



Matt Walsh

Matt Walsh is the CEO and founder of Observer Media Group.

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