Council inaction drives up taxes for all 

February 2, 2024

Despite support from Sussex County’s seven public school districts and all but three members of the Delaware General Assembly, Sussex County Council is refusing to consider an ordinance to adopt a school impact fee on new residential development. 

At its Jan. 30 meeting, council members adamantly called a voluntary school assessment a tax that would negatively affect the residents of Sussex County.

As stated in this editorial space before, this is a one-time impact fee that would only be assessed to the developers of major subdivisions. It’s likely the fee would be baked into cost of a home and passed on to buyers, many of whom are moving to Sussex County in droves from neighboring states. A VSA would never be applied to the property tax bills of existing residents. A VSA would not apply to single-home builds, communities with fewer than five homes, low-income housing or 55-plus communities. 

In opposing a VSA, Council President Mike Vincent said it wouldn’t be equitable to all students and school districts because only areas with growth would see extra funding.

That is exactly the point. The effect of new home construction is disproportionately hurting schools in high-growth areas, which is a direct result of Sussex County’s land-use policy. Districts are being forced to seek assistance to build more schools or renovate older buildings. Cape Henlopen School District is planning its fourth referendum in the last 10 years this spring because development has not slowed. Rather than impose a fee on people buying new homes, Sussex County Council is choosing to put the burden of paying for school improvements on the shoulders of all taxpayers in high-growth school districts.

Councilman Mark Schaeffer claimed a person buying a $200,000 home would be charged $17,000 to $18,000. The actual estimated VSA numbers vary from as low as $7,828 to $15,655 However, Senate Bill 186 clearly states a VSA may not exceed 5% of the total cost. In Schaeffer’s example of a $200,000 house, a VSA may not exceed $10,000.

Like any bill or ordinance, there are likely flaws. Rather than dismiss it completely, council should share its concerns with legislators to amend the law to come up with something that will ultimately benefit the students and teachers of Sussex County. What council is doing now is continuing to drive up school taxes through inaction.

Council inaction drives up taxes for all.

  • Editorials are considered and written by Cape Gazette Editorial Board members, including Publisher Chris Rausch, Editor Jen Ellingsworth, News Editor Nick Roth and reporters Ron MacArthur and Chris Flood. 

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