The City of Wilmington has asked to join a lawsuit that calls for a reassessment of property in the state.
In so doing, Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki, broke ranks with county and state officials who have worked to quash the suit that is now moving toward trial in Delaware Chancery Court. So far, efforts to dismiss the suit have failed.
The New Castle County Executive responded by noting that the city has the right to reassess property.
“There is no need to waste city and county taxpayer money by litigating this issue in court. Ifthe city wants to reassess property, it has the power to do so under state law. In fact, Dover and Rehoboth reassess property on their own,” Matthew Meyer stated.
A city reassessment without the county doing the same would be controversial and might lead to a flight of businesses and residents. Reassessments are revenue neutral but can result in tax increases for properties that are under assessed.
Critics have pointed to Sussex County as having the most disparities in assessed values, pointing to low property taxes for luxury properties.
Counties, which collect property taxes, claim they are not a party to the suit, which also claims the state’s school funding formula that offersa set amount for each student, is unconstitutional.
Willmington, which has no jurisdiction over public schools, is not seeking to be a party to the school funding demand.
School aid formula not part of city suit filing
Critics claim the formula has hurt poorer districts with more students in need of extra assistance while allowing wealthier districts to offer enrichment and other programs for students who are already performing well.
The condition and funding for school buildings have been an issue in Wilmington, a city that has seen little or no new school construction in half a century.
The suit was filed last year by attorneys from the Community Legal Aid Society, Inc. (CLASI) and the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware (ACLU) against the New Castle County Government and other government officials.
In a release, Purzycki stated that Wilmington supports the plaintiffs’ arguments against the county in that previously-filed case and intends to assert its own arguments in support of its request that the court order the county government to conduct a county-wide property reassessment, an obligation Mayor Purzycki says the County has ignored for 36 years.
Reassessment ignored for 36 years
Purzycki was a member of New Castle County Council in 1983 when the County last decided to reassess properties.
“It is simply unacceptable that the County government has failed for nearly four decades to carry out a reassessment of property values,” said Purzycki. “Instead, all property owners are left to deal with outdated, unreliable and inaccurately assessed values that harm property owners as well as the city government’s ability to effectively and fairly administer its own property tax system.” The Mayor said the current property reassessment process being used by the County only worsens the situation for citizens and government and leads to wholly unfair decisions on property reassessments that have huge financial implications.
The city offered the following bullet points in the release.
- Property taxes, which are determined by assessed property values, are a major source of revenue from which the City and County provide services to the public;
- The county’s failure to perform a general reassessment has had an irreparable and ongoing detrimental effect on the city’s need to raise revenue to fund City programs and services;
- The county has a constitutional duty to uniformly assess all real property within its boundaries;
- The county has a tainted history of an indefensible administration of its property tax system and acknowledges that its property tax system is inequitable;
- The county’s failure to perform a general reassessment has caused other problems, such as a backlog of property tax assessment appeals awaiting a hearing before the county Board of Assessment Review.
If permitted by the Court of Chancery to participate in the ongoing lawsuit, Wilmington intends to seek declaratory and injunctive relief against the county government.