DOVER — No one wants to pay more in property taxes.
But as Paul Miller — Tyler Technologies’ Eastern Region sales lead representative — said Tuesday, the purpose of reassessing property values and subsequent changes to taxes is to create a fairer system more in line with the law.
“If you own a $500,000 house and I own a $250,000 house, you should pay twice as much as I do in real estate tax,” Mr. Miller said. “That’s how the law is set up.”
Mr. Miller was on hand at this week’s Kent County Levy Court meeting to offer insight as to how the county’s court-mandated property reassessment will be handled. Levy Court awarded a more-than-$4 million contract to Tyler Technologies in early June to complete the reassessment.
The Texas-based company also is handling Sussex County’s reassessment, at the cost of $9 million.
If the first property reassessment in the county since 1987 is to be a successful one, there must be public outreach early in the process and as much transparency as possible throughout, Mr. Miller said.
The reassessment is the result of an American Civil Liberties Union and Community Legal Aid Society lawsuit filed in 2018 that alleged the state was not providing adequate funding for education due to the outdated assessments.
Property tax assessments are a key component in determining funding for Delaware school districts. Due to their nature, Mr. Miller noted it is “quite easy” for these types of lawsuits to be successful.
Mr. Miller, who said he’s worked for Tyler Technologies for about 25 years, said large gaps between reassessments are not uncommon — no Delaware county has undergone a reassessment more recently than the 1980s, with New Castle’s last being in 1983 and Sussex’s in 1974.
All three Delaware counties use a base-year assessment system, meaning properties are assessed and those values are set in stone until the next reassessment.
Mr. Miller said reassessments often are the result of lawsuits, adding that the base-year system is a “valid way to value properties.” Trouble comes when the date of the base year gets further away.
“Through time, (the assessed value of a property) becomes less and less true,” he said.
The county will soon begin a 30-month reassessment of all properties — residential and commercial — that must be completed by February 2024.
Mr. Miller said the process will start in late September or early October, with data collection to determine the current market value of all properties. He said this process will help correct data for homes built after 1987.
“We’re going to go door-to-door to every property in the county,” he said. “We’re going to measure every property in the county.”
Mr. Miller said there are logistics that must be worked out that go along with door-to-door data collection. If properties have fences, no-trespassing signs or hostile property owners, Mr. Miller said they will be dealt with differently, possibly using aerial photography.
The collectors will not ask to go inside houses and will adapt based on county COVID-19 guidelines. Mr. Miller said all Tyler Technologies’ visitors are trained.
Part of the process will include collectors photographing every property and measuring each parcel.
“It’s impossible to figure out how much each property is worth without knowing what each property is,” Mr. Miller said. “How big the lot is, how big the house is, how many bedrooms, bathrooms. What year it was built, what condition it’s in, those kinds of things.”
Once data is collected, every property owner will receive a mailer that will include a street-level photo, a sketch of the property and its characteristics. Nothing will be value-related, but rather, fact-based information will be supplied, like what year the house was built and how many bedrooms, bathrooms or fireplaces it has.
Mr. Miller said there will likely be errors in this portion of the process.
“We’re going to make a lot of errors. We’re human beings, and we’re collecting door-to-door,” he said. “A lot of people aren’t home when you go to the property, so you’re estimating based on what we know door-to-door.”
The mailer will invite property owners to engage in the process and correct any errors — like the number of fireplaces or bathrooms.
“The whole goal, all along, is to get the most accurate value,” he said. “(The county) isn’t going to pay us any more if we set high values versus low values. We want the most accurate value because, in the end, what the value is will determine what portion of the real estate tax a person pays.”
After the data-collecting phase concludes, the evaluation phase begins, which, Mr. Miller said, takes into account how much money houses and commercial properties are selling for. Collectors will look at how much a house sells for in a neighborhood in determining the value of similar houses.
Following that process, the evaluation information also is mailed out to property owners.
Then, about three to four months before the entire process is wrapped in February 2024, notices will be mailed to property owners with the estimate of its worth.
Mr. Miller said he’s hopeful people will be aware of the reassessment before then. He noted there will be websites that feature pictures and names of data collectors.
“We’re trying to be as transparent as possible to try and remove any misinformation, any confusion and as much fear (as) we can,” Mr. Miller said. “People are very fearful. What if my taxes go up five times? What if they go up 10 times? And it can happen.”
He said that if a homeowner’s taxes do go up, it means someone else’s are going to go down. The reassessment can help correct that kind of unfair taxation, he added, likening it to being taxed another person’s income tax rate without knowing it.
“The whole point of a reassessment is no one has gone to these properties since 1987,” Mr. Miller said. “The whole point of going door-to-door is to correct data.”