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New Castle County to collect code enforcement fees on tax bills next week

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Delaware Public Media
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New Castle County residents may see code enforcement fines and fees on their property tax bills next week. 

 

The New Castle County and school district property tax bills going out will include vacant property registration, hearing and administrative fines and fees. They will also include abatement expenses paid by the county to maintain commercial and vacant residential properties.

Officials say it is the County’s attempt to recoup more than a million dollars in unpaid code enforcement fines and fees owed by some 1,300 property owners. 

The county moved code enforcement civil penalties — or tickets— to property tax bills in years past, but this was largely done by filing a certificate of lien with the Recorder of Deeds’ office. Officials say this took significant manpower. But state enabling legislation passed in 2017 and a New Castle County ordinance adopted last year allows the county to move code enforcement fees to tax bills without filing a lien. 

County officials say only final and non-appealable code enforcement fees will be transferred to tax bills. The tax bills going out this month will be the first to contain these in significant numbers. 

County CFO David Gregor says the new process should improve the county’s collection rate. “We could fine them and say for every day you don’t comply we’re going to hit you with a monetary penalty, but we had no way of ever making that stick, and this legislation allows us to do that.”

“When you file a lien at the Recorder of Deeds, the only time that gets paid generally is at a sale or a refinance,” said Joe Day, licensing manager with the County’s Land Use department. “So you could be ten, fifteen years, twenty years. Whereas when we put it on a tax bill, I think the collection rate on the tax bill is much greater and much faster than we see with just liening the property.”

 

Roughly half of the $1.1 million in overdue code enforcement fines and fees that will be moved to tax bills comes from Rule to Show Cause Compliance Fees for building, drainage and Unified Development Code violations, according to officials. 

New Castle County government has tried over the past two years to increase efforts to collect delinquent taxes and fees — which last year resulted in the collection of $16 million of such taxes and fees for the county and its school districts. 

County and school tax payments can be made by mail, in person or online— and are due September 30. 

Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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