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Chancery judge to rule on possible new property tax assessments

A Chancery Court judge is expected to rule by the end of the year whether counties need to reassess property values.

Attorneys for the ACLU, the NAACP and Delawareans for Educational Opportunities faced lawyers representing Delaware’s three counties last week.

The civil rights groups are arguing the state is failing to give schools enough funding to ensure students have equal access to a quality education. They argue counties have a duty to do new assessments.

Richard Morse is among the attorneys representing the civil rights advocates. He said the lawsuit in part calls for counties to stop collecting taxes based on outdated property tax assessments.

“The counties have violated the state constitution and state law by not reassessing those properties for many years,” he said.

About 80 percent of property tax revenue goes to school districts. But property values in Delaware have not been reassessed for more than three decades.

Morse argues outdated assessments deprive disadvantaged students of needed funding.

“The number, you know, that the county has given each property as its assessment — each property as its assessment — is so far different from the true value, the fair market value of the properties,” he said. "And the values that counties have given are so non-uniform."

If the judge rules in favor of the education advocates, another trial will be held to determine remedies. A separate trial against state officials for what the groups claim is inequities in the state’s education funding formula is scheduled for November of next year.

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