By Tony E. Windsor
Residents of Laurel are receiving their assessed property taxes for the 2018-19 fiscal year and will have the opportunity to appeal any they do not agree with during an upcoming Mayor and Council meeting on Aug. 20.
During a recent meeting of Laurel Council, Town Manager Jamie Smith said this year, like years in the past, Laurel's property taxes will be based on the Sussex County property tax assessments; assessments that were last evaluated in 1974.
"The Town of Laurel, each year utilizes the Sussex County 1974 assessments for our annual real estate taxes and assessments for properties located within the municipal boundaries," she said. "The Town has received for this fiscal year, the assessment list from Sussex County and mayor and council need to adopt the list so we can move forward with the town assessment for properties for the annual tax billing and scheduling as the Court of Appeals."
It is common for municipalities in Sussex County to use the county tax assessments, as any type of reassessment can be expensive. Mayor John Shwed said for Laurel it would be "thousands of dollars" to perform a town-wide property tax reassessment.
"Unlike those communities that are updating property tax assessments, Laurel at this point does not have the new development that makes it worth spending the kind money it would take to do a reevaluation of property," he said.
Currently, the city of Seaford is undergoing a citywide property tax reassessment. According to information from a March Seaford City Council meeting, Finance Director June Merritt said the city last underwent a full reassessment of properties in the city 10 years ago at a cost to the city of about $140,000.
She said according to the city's current vendor, Property Tax Assessments Delaware Valuation (PTA/DELVAL), Inc., who was the only vendor to reply to the city in an advertised request for proposal to do an updated assessment, a full assessment now would cost as much as $205,500 ($68.50 per parcel). However, because the city has up to date records kept by PTA/DELVAL since the last assessment, the cost will be $130,500 ($43.50 per parcel).
Unlike a full assessment, PTA/DELVAL will conduct assessment that entails a visual review of each property and only those with significant changes from the existing records would receive a full re-measure and corrections in the tax records. The city budgeted $200,000 in this year's budget to address reassessment.
At present, Seaford's assessments are based on 2008 market values. The taxes are assessed at 100 percent of appraised value and taxed at $.31 per $100 of assessed value.
Throughout Delaware, municipalities by in large rely on county tax assessments to set their own property taxes. While Sussex County has assessments based on 50 percent of 1974 market values, Kent County was last evaluated in 1986 and New Castle did reassessment in 1983.
In 2015 the Delaware Senate introduced Senate Joint Resolution 4 which established the "Education Funding Improvement Commission" to conduct a comprehensive review of Delaware's public education funding system "and make recommendations to modernize and strengthen the system."
The Commission, which identified property tax inequities as an issue directly related to the equitable funding of education throughout the state's 19 school districts, submitted a 2017 report outlining recommendations for 2018. Referring to the "Equalization Formula," which is how the state funds education utilizing each districts ability to raise funds through property taxes.
In the Commission's report, members cited property tax assessments as a detriment in gaining actual equity. "This allocation is an attempt to ensure that each district has substantially the same level of resources with which to educate each student," the report states.