Sussex County is Delaware’s last county to agree to reassess its property under a legal settlement.
Sussex County decided Tuesday to settle a suit with civil rights and education advocates—and reassess the value of all real property in its boundary for the first time since 1974.
Sussex follows New Castle and Kent Counties in agreeing to reassess. A Chancery Court judge ruled last spring that all three counties’ tax assessment systems were unconstitutional, after advocates argued outdated assessments disadvantage students by depriving public schools of funding.
New Castle County leaders committed to keep their reassessment revenue-neutral, by rolling back the tax rate. Neither Kent nor Sussex County has said yet whether it will do the same—but Sussex officials say the estimated $9 million cost of reassessment there will be funded with County reserves. Kent County officials have said any increase in property tax revenue would likely go to cover the cost of reassessment.
The majority of a tax bill goes to schools, as opposed to the county government.
Sussex County Councilman Mark Schaeffer painted settling as the responsible thing to do during Council’s meeting Tuesday.
“I’ve read the briefs in the case, and the tenor of the court have made it clear that … we won’t prevail in pursuing this litigation,” he said. “And I, in good conscience, can’t continue to spend taxpayers’ dollars to fight a losing cause.”
Sussex County Council President Michael Vincent echoed this, saying he voted to settle begrudgingly.
“I don’t think anybody sitting up here is looking forward to doing this, but I think the lawsuit is the lawsuit, I think we all see—reading the tea leaves—what’s going to be the final decision,” he said.
Sussex County officials say the reassessment will be finished by mid-2024—the same timeframe Kent County agreed to. New Castle County plans to finish in 2023.