The Senate on Tuesday sent legislation to Governor John Carney that will require Delaware’s three counties to complete countywide property tax reassessments once every five years. The bill, House Bill 62, passed by a vote of 17-2-2, with Republican Senators Richardson and Hocker providing the two no votes.
Introduced by Rep. Madinah Wilson-Anton and Sen. Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman in March, the bill seeks to make Delaware’s education funding more dynamic and equitable by ensuring that the underlying property tax system that supports public schools is both fair and accurate.
Although Delaware law has long required county governments to conduct property reassessments, no requirement was ever set on how often those reassessments should occur.
As a result, Sussex County has not conducted a countywide property tax reassessment since 1974, while New Castle and Kent County last reassessed property in 1983 and 1987, respectively. The widely divergent rates of market value appreciation in the intervening decades has meant that many properties are wildly misvalued based on the current market, with some homeowners paying more than they should and others paying too little.
The NAACP of Delaware and Delawareans for Educational Opportunity filed a lawsuit against the state in 2018, claiming the lack of consistent reassessments had denied adequate funding for Delaware schools, particularly those serving disadvantaged students.
In a landmark 2020 ruling, the Court of Chancery sided with the plaintiffs and found that the current property tax system violated the Delaware Constitution, which requires all property owners to be taxed on an equal footing.
While the court was not definitive in its remedy, continuing litigation between the parties resulted in an agreement that the counties would undertake reassessments for the first time in decades. The reassessment process currently underway in all three counties is slated for completion by 2025.
By setting a 5-year reassessment cycle for each county, HB 62 will ensure that future taxable property values remain consistent with fair market property values, while ensuring that property owners never again face the financial insecurity that comes with the first countywide reassessment in 50 years.
If signed by Gov. Carney, HB 62 will ensure that the first 5-year reassessment window will begin once each county has completed their current reassessment process.
|House Bill 62 – Requiring Property Value Reassessment Every 5 Years||Currrent Status – House Passed 29-3-5-4. Senate Passed 17-2-2. Sent to the Governor.|
|House Sponsors – Wilson-Anton, Williams, Baumbach, Harris, Moore, Morrison, Romer||Senate Sponsors – Lockman, McBride, Sturgeon, Hoffner, Sokola, Townsend|
|House Yes Votes – Baumbach Bolden Bush Carson Chukwuocha Cooke Dorsey-Walker Griffith Harris Johnson Lambert Longhurst Matthews Minor-Brown Moore Morrison Neal Osienski Phillips Romer Schwartzkopf Williams Wilson-Anton // Dukes Gray Morris Short Spiegelman Vanderwende||Senate Yes Votes – Gay Hansen Hoffner Huxtable Lockman Mantzavinos McBride Paradee Poore Sokola Sturgeon Townsend Walsh // Buckson Lawson Pettyjohn Wilson|
|House No Votes – Postles, Collins, Yearick||Senate No Votes – Hocker, Richardson|
|House Absents or Not Voting – (Not Voting) Briggs King, Ramone, Hensley, Hilovsky, Parker Selby (Absent) Lynn, Shupe, Smith, Heffernan||Senate Absent or Not Voting – Brown, Pinkney|
“An absence of consistent and routine property reassessments from one end of our state to the other has played a major role in the funding disparities and socioeconomic inequities that have been hallmarks of Delaware’s public education system for decades,” said Sen. Lockman, vice chair of the Senate Education Committee and vice chair of the Redding Consortium for Educational Equity. “While we still have considerable work left to do to reverse those trends, I want to thank my colleagues in the Delaware General Assembly for passing this measure to prevent our property tax and education funding systems from falling further and further out of alignment with reality.”
“Right now, people are paying too much, some too little, and others the correct amount,” said Rep. Wilson-Anton. “This legislation was drafted to ensure we don’t go another three decades with outdated property values that result in inequitable county and school funding streams.”