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Delaware Senate Democrats

Senate approves bill requiring countywide property tax reassessments every 5 years

June 20, 2023

DOVER – 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.

Introduced by Rep. Madinah Wilson-Anton and Sen. Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman in March, House Bill 62 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.

“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.”

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.

“Right now, people are paying too much, some too little, and others the correct amount,” said Rep. Wilson-Anton, D-Newark/Bear. “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.”

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.