Less importance is attached to the duties of local officials in the parts of the country that failed to develop strong local governments. The plantation type of development in the South did not encourage local assemblies for the purpose of determining fiscal, political, and economic policies. The important administrative governmental unit in the South, consequently, is the county, and because of the size of the unit the tax system is necessarily more centralized than that described above.
The property in the county is usually assessed by one or more assessors under the direction of the county court. Obviously the assessors can know little concerning either the persons or property to be assessed. Much more reliance must be placed upon the declaration of the taxpayer, and less upon the personal judgment of the assessor than in the Northern states. Systems to prevent evasion have been introduced, and penalties have been prescribed against violators of the tax laws. Property frequently escapes the assessors, and it becomes necessary to supplement their efforts by those of other officials.
In the Western states the plan of centralization is carried to greater lengths. The county is not an automaton, but an administrative unit which acts under the direction of the state. Methods, rates, and the different administrative features are usually formulated by state officials, while state equalization boards are maintained to equalize the assessments among the counties. The extent and effectiveness of central control have become an important factor in the success of property tax administration.