Delaware Tech officials to renew push for state property tax

DOVER — Delaware Technical Community College has $144 million in construction projects administrators hope to complete, but the college lacks the funding to do the work one top official describes as a necessity.

Legislation filed last month would bring in additional funds by imposing a property tax on all Delaware residents.

From that proposed tax the college would receive millions of dollars annually, with the money coming directly from the state’s property owners.
Administrators insist the proposal would cost most homeowners less than $10 in the first year and max out at an additional $37 annually.

Under Senate Bill 137, the so-called Community College Infrastructure Fund would be developed, with the fund being supported by a property tax placed on every $100 of assessed value for real estate.

The bill would treat DelTech like the state’s three vocational school districts, which receive funding from a tax on nearby homes.

For vocational schools, the maximum rate for New Castle and Kent counties is 14 cents on every $100 of assessed property value, while it tops out at 29 cents in Sussex County for the current year.

The rate for DelTech would not exceed 10 cents per $100, officials said. Gerard McNesby, DelTech’s vice president for finance, said the college plans to implement a tax of 1.9 cents in the first year and likely would not raise it above 5 cents in the first five years.

Senate Bill 137 went nowhere in June. But with the legislative session continuing in January, legislators could pick it up again, and Mr. McNesby is optimistic.

“It just got caught up in major backlog of other issues that needed more immediate attention of the General Assembly, but many members want us to come back and to continue to address this issue because it’s not going to go away,” he said.

About three-quarters of community colleges in the country are funded by local property taxes, he said.

DelTech needs the bill, he argued, because of major capital needs. Two-thirds of its buildings statewide are more than 25 years old.

Although recommendations call for spending $12 million annually on projects, the college has received about $4.2 million per year from the state over the past decade, according to the bill.

“There’s never a good time to raise property taxes but this is really the best time and given where the college’s aging infrastructure is now, we really have no choice but to seek alternative sources to meet our deferred maintenance,” Mr. McNesby said.

The proposal would save the state government money by freeing up a few million dollars that go to DelTech in the capital budget process every year.

For the current fiscal year, the community college is set to receive $6 million.

The bill has the backing of 18 legislators. However, nearly all of them are Democrats, and with the bill requiring a three-fifths super majority, it will need Republican support.

For now, DelTech lobbyists and supportive lawmakers have six months to make their case before the legislative session resumes.

“Every year this gets delayed another year, facilities get worse,” Mr. McNesby said.

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