Christina School District’s recent decision not to participate in a county-wide tax amnesty program has drawn the ire of several county council members from the Newark area.
The program allows residential property owners with an outstanding tax bill to avoid penalty fees if their county and school taxes are paid in full by June 25. The other six school districts in New Castle County have agreed to participate, but the Christina board voted earlier this month not to.
County council members Tim Sheldon and Janet Kilpatrick, who sponsored the legislation creating the amnesty program, sent a letter to Christina last week calling on the district to change its mind.
Councilwoman Lisa Diller, who lives in Newark, also critiqued the district’s decision. She said that the pandemic, which caused many people to lose jobs, should have swayed Christina’s decision.
“We have a large number of people in the Christina district who have issues because they’ve lost jobs,” Diller said. “Nobody’s saying, ‘Don’t pay your taxes.’ We’re just saying we’re going to give people until June 25 to pay their property taxes and school taxes, without fear of penalty.”
Sheldon said a primary reason for the amnesty is to encourage people to pay outstanding taxes now, instead of waiting until they sell, refinance, or transfer ownership of their house. He argued that by not participating, the district is losing out on an influx of tax revenue that it will instead have to wait years to receive.
“They are not getting the money now. They’ll get it in 20 years, but the teachers are hungry now. They need books now. They can’t wait 20 years,” Sheldon said.
He continued by saying that though he helped the district promote its referendum effort in 2015, he would not do the same in the future, because he feels the district does not care enough about residents who cannot pay because of financial hardship.
“They can get somebody else to beg their constituents to pay more taxes to the schools,” Sheldon said.
The county already made a concession to Christina when crafting the amnesty program. The ordinance originally encompassed every property within New Castle County. However, Christina did not want to risk losing the large penalty owed by the Newark Country Club – which recently sold its land and will be paying back taxes – so the program was amended to only include improved residential properties.
The Christina board unanimously voted against participating on April 13, based on the advice of the administration.
“Christina School District voted not to support the tax amnesty measure due to the potential loss of up to $600,000 in penalties owed by property owners who did not pay their property taxes on time,” said Christina Chief Financial Officer Chuck Longfellow. “Not receiving this penalty revenue would result in an increase to some components of the school tax rate for all property owners.”
Christina spokeswoman Alva Mobley said that the district may now revisit its decision because officials were originally under the impression that other school districts would also be voting against participating. However, a decision to reconsider would have to go through the school board.
Christina did participate in similar tax penalty amnesty programs in 2012 and 2015.