of Reassessing County
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GEORGETOWN -- Sussex County Council discussed the possibility of reassessment during its regular meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2002.
The county has not conducted a reassessment since 1974, a situation that causes complaints about inequities in county taxes between owners of newer and older homes.
Councilman Vance Phillips raised the issue during Tuesday's council meeting after he and County Adminstrator Robert L. Stickels met with county school district leaders at Delmar High School on Monday, Feb. 4.
Those leaders questioned the county about the possibility of a reassessment with the idea that it would raise additional revenue for their districts through the state's equalization formula. Stickels said it was decided to discuss the issue with school district officials and council members further.
Phillips said he was most concerned about the property tax increase senior citizens who have lived their entire lives in the county would see from a reassessment.
He also said he didn't necessarily see a need for a reassessment to correct perceived inequities because the county assesses all properties at 1974 market values, regardless of when they were built. "You may build a million-dollar property," said Phillips, "but it will only be assessed at $150,000."
Phillips said that school district officials are seeking more equitable funding, particularly on the western side of the county, where they see all of the money going to coastal school districts that benefit from retirees buying homes and increasing property values in those districts while not putting kids in the school systems there.
The problem with using a reassessment to try to correct that perceived inequity, however, is that a reassessment would cost the county approximately $3 million, according to Stickels, and may require a tax increase to pay for it.
"I support providing equitable school funding," said Phillips. "I'm only now being introduced to the problems the lack of reassessments is causing our school districts. But as I told them (school officials) last night, I have nobody calling me on the phone asking me to reassess their property.
"To the contrary, I see it as an issue affecting county finances (the cost to do the reassessment), and since we're very secure in our current financial situation, I have no interest in doing anything that would potentially raise county property taxes. I wouldn't support anything that would have the appearance of increasing taxes."
As for the impact on long-time citizens of the county, Phillips said the reassessment would unfairly burden them.
"On a county-wide basis, I have the feeling some of the biggest losers in this process would be long-time Sussex Countians who have not built a beach home and have lived in their homes the last 50 years," said Phillips. "They would see a great increase in the value of their properties and that would lead to an increase in taxes. They don't put a burden on county services. The ones who need to be paying are the ones who are moving to the county from the outside."
Stickels also said he believed that "the pot of gold" from a reassessment would not get any bigger for the school districts "from what we've been hearing."
Stickels said properties in the county are currently assessed at between 11 and 15 percent of their market value.
Cole added that school districts do have the power to raise revenues on their own through referendum.Sheriff's Lawsuit ...
Council member Vance Phillips asked County Solicitor Eugene Bayard if council members could comment on the lawsuit filed by Sheriff Robert Reed against Delaware Attorney General M. Jane Brady and Secretary of Public Safety James L. Ford last week.
Bayard said council was free to comment on the suit because it was not a party to the suit. But after the council meeting, Phillips declined to comment on the suit at this time.
County resident John Reeves, however, spoke at length about the suit and asked each council member to issue a press release giving his opinion on the suit.
Reeves was cut off on several occasions by County Solicitor Eugene Bayard, County Administrator Robert L. Stickels, and Council President Finley B. Jones, who informed Reeves that while they appreciated his opinion, a county council meeting wasn't the proper forum to discuss the issue because council couldn't act on the issue.
"You can talk to us all day," said Stickels, "and we can not do anything for you."
Reeves told council members that he supported the Sheriff and simply wanted council to do the same. He didn't get much encouragement, though.
"The council has taken the position by consensus that the sheriff has traditionally been an officer of the court," said Councilman George Cole. "We've been advised not only on the Constitution but also on history, and we've taken that position. There is no consensus from council that the sheriff's duties should be expanded. We support what the sheriff has traditionally done. None of the three counties have sheriffs that have done that (policing) for 50 years plus."
Reeves wasn't swayed, however. He said the sheriff has police powers as defined by the state Constitution and that whether past sheriffs have excercised those powers or not is irrelevant.
He also said the county "is being short-changed. The county could take the same money it uses for state police and create a county police force like every other county in the country has."
Cole said the dramatic increase in the county's budget from establishing such a force would require a substantial tax increase and that he felt it was more cost-effective for the county to continue to hire state police officers to patrol the county.
"You've got a $7 million surplus," said Reeves. "Take some of that money."Council Decisions ...
Sussex County Council unanimously approved a number of minor items Tuesday:
In Other Business ...
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