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Delaware lawmakers doubt they'll consider property assessment legislation this year

Delaware Public Media

Student enrollment has been rising across the state of Delaware - driving up educational costs for the state and school districts. That has some seeking to bolster school districts’ bottom line partly by addressing artificially low property taxes.

Appoquinimink School District teachers and staff told Gov. John Carney this week their student enrollment is growing. But it’s hard to convince area property owners to pay more in local taxes to help cover the cost of that growth.

Counties in Delaware haven’t reassessed property values since the 70’s and 80’s.

Over the past two decades, state lawmakers have chosen not to force counties do fresh assessments, despite rising costs for public schools. About 80 percent of property tax revenue goes to school districts.

State Rep. Kevin Hensley said fresh assessments would help schools. But he doesn’t think state lawmakers will address this year.

“I don’t think it’s going to come up this year," he said. "It’s an election year and so clearly that comes into play with folks really wanting to consider controversial measures and so forth and so on.”

But he adds lawmakers shouldn’t wait until there’s a budget shortfall to consider it either.

“For me, it’s more a matter of let’s look at an overall, balanced approach - not rush something as critically big as this," he said. "And not just again make a decision because we find ourselves in a situation where we need millions of dollars in June.”

Sussex County hasn’t done new property assessments since 1974. New Castle County’s last assessment was in 1983 and Kent County’s most recent one was in 1987.

The issue could get a push in court. Delawareans for Educational Opportunity and the NAACP filed a lawsuit against state and county officials in January for failing to adequately fund the education of children living in low-income areas.

The lawsuit alleges the current school funding system gives more financial support to wealthier school districts like Appoquinimink than poorer districts in the state.

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