Senate drops bill allowing Del Tech to raise taxes

School seeks $100 million in infrastructure upgrades
February 22, 2019

A bill that would have given a Delaware Technical Community College board the right to raise taxes for infrastructure projects has been pulled from consideration by the state Senate.

Senate Bill 50, sponsored by Sen. Harris McDowell, D-Wilmington, had been released from committee Jan. 23 and was awaiting action when the Legislature reconvenes in March. He pulled the bill Feb. 22, and encouraged lawmakers to come up with alternatives or amendments that would help Del Tech pay for $100 million in maintenance.

The bill would have allowed a board of trustees to raise property taxes, without a public referendum to pay for those costs.

Vice President of Finance Gerald McNesby said the tax rate of 6.5 cents per $100 of assessed property is the same that the state Legislature has approved for county vo-tech high schools, and it would have cost about $13 more a year for a $231,600 home that is assessed at $20,483. With money raised, Del Tech would have bought bonds to help pay for its infrastructure needs.

In a letter to the editor, Del Tech President Mark Brainard said campuses across the state have a total of about $100 million in maintenance projects that need to be fixed. He said deferring maintenance over the years has now resulted in a crisis.

“Establishing a Community College Infrastructure Fund would support over $110 million in construction projects, a potential boon to local business,” he wrote in his letter.

Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes, said he had some concerns about the bill before it was pulled Feb. 22.

“How did it get to $100 million in the first place?” he asked.

While he supports the community college, Lopez said more discussion is needed on the tax rate.

“A board being able to raise the tax rate is a concern,” he said.

Rep. Steve Smyk, R-Milton, was a co-sponsor on the bill until he asked for his name to be removed Feb. 20. He said many constituents reached out to him against the bill.

“After listening to them, I realize that I made a well-intentioned mistake when I initially supported this measure,” he said.

Smyk said he also supports Del Tech, and legislators should continue to find a way pay for the school's infrastructure needs.

The University of Delaware and Delaware State University already have the ability to sell bonds to raise investment capital for infrastructure improvements. Smyk said he has been working with other legislators to give Del Tech the same flexibility, but without creating any liability for the state or placing any new burden on taxpayers.

Lopez said a fund carved out of Gov. John Carney's budget for one-time capital improvements could be an option.

Speaker of the House Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, said he was aware of the bonding authority in the bill but was not aware of the other details.

Recovering from recent knee surgery, he declined to comment further on the bill.