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Reassessment Comes to Delaware

by Tom Branham, Washington D.C., February 2021

For the first time in 40 years, New Castle County, Delaware has agreed to reassess all real estate for property tax purposes. The move comes following a court ruling that the failure of the state’s three counties to conduct timely reassessments is unconstitutional.

 

Court Case

 

A lawsuit filed in 2018 claimed public school students were being harmed by a lack of school funding based on the decades-old property values in Delaware.

 

New Castle County has not adjusted its property tax valuations since 1983. Kent and Sussex counties have not adjusted theirs since 1987 and 1974, respectively. Each of the counties calculates its “base year” from those dates on which to base its assessments.

 

Last May, Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster ruled that the property tax systems used by all three counties violate the state’s Constitution.

 

Judge Laster decided that the property assessment values resulting from the counties’ current systems “have no correlation with present fair market value.”

 

"By continuing to use the decades-old valuations when preparing their assessment rolls, the counties treat owners of similar properties differently," Laster wrote.

 

In November, the judge set a trial date of March 29-30 of this year for the case after lawyers representing disadvantaged students and Delaware’s three counties failed to negotiate a settlement.

 

New Castle Takes the Lead

 

New Castle County announced plans to conduct a reassessment for use in tax bills by July 2023. The settlement does not specify exactly how the county will do the reassessment.

 

Officials with the ACLU of Delaware, which helped represent the plaintiffs, say the resolution will modernize the County’s property tax system and set the stage for regular reassessments moving forward. The agreement does not require New Castle County to do regular reassessments in the future.