Cape Gazette

Steady stream of voters turns out for school referendum

Polls open until 8 p.m. at Cape, Mariner, Rehoboth Elementary
Apr 02, 2014
Photo by: Deny Howeth Voters crowd the lobby at Cape Henlopen High School to vote in a referendum on a new elementary school.

A steady stream of voters filed into Cape Henlopen High School throughout the morning after polls opened April 2 for the district's elementary school referendum.

Polls will remain open until 8 p.m. at the high school, Mariner Middle School in Milton and Rehoboth Elementary in Rehoboth Beach.

Sussex County Department of Elections Director Ken McDowell, in the busy lobby of Cape Henlopen High School where four polling machines were on hand for voters, said the turnout appeared strong in the first hour.  Bill Carey, who supervises operation of the machines and makes sure they're working well, said more than 200 people voted in the first half hour after the polls opened at 10 a.m.

Voters in favor of building a new 720-student elementary school on Route 24 across from Beacon Middle School agree that the new school is needed to help ease overcrowding at existing four elementary schools.

"I grew up around here, and a new elementary school is needed," said Tricia Ratner of Lewes, who has a high school student at Cape and at Sussex Tech.

Those against the referendum voted no to higher taxes and also questioned whether the district needs to buy more land on top of what it already owns.

"I'm not convinced that it's needed," said Dick McCurdy of Lewes. "Other properties could be utilized."

Voters both for and against the new school agreed that a series of robo-calls sent out asking them to vote against the referendum did nothing to sway their vote.

"It didn't affect my vote," said Charlie Baker of Lewes. "I found it annoying."

In addition to the new elementary school, the $31 million referendum would pay for six new classrooms at both Mariner and Beacon middle schools. The state has agreed to pay 60 percent of total construction costs, leaving residents about $11 million to pay.

The average homeowner with a $250,000 home assessed at $21,546 would pay $59 more a year by 2017. The total tax rate increase would be 27 cents with 10 cents per $100 of assessed property going to capital improvement costs, and another 17 cents for operating expenses. The 10-cent increase would expire after 30 years; the 17 cents would be a permanent tax increase.

McDowell said 5,911 voters cast ballots in the  2006 referendum when voters approved funds for a new high school but voted against funds for a pool. "There were about 1,200 voters in Milton that year and 1,200 in Rehoboth," McDowell said. "The rest were at the high school.  We expect this to be the busiest place. That's why we brought four machines this year compared to three last time around."

Voters at Cape High wait their turns to cast a ballot. If approved, the proposed new elementary school on Route 24 and six new classrooms at both Beacon and Mariner middle schools would raise taxes for an average taxpayer about $59 in 2017. (Photo by: Deny Howeth)
Voting machine technician Bill Carey, left, and Sussex County Department of Elections Director Ken McDowell stayed in the middle of the swirl as voting rolled into full swing April 2  at Cape Henlopen High School. (Photo by: Dennis Forney)
This is a view Inside the voting booth. (Photo by: Deny Howeth)
Comments (1)
Posted by: Wyneth Achenbaum | Apr 02, 2014 15:26

Putting aside the merits of educating our children well in relatively small classes -- which I think very important -- there is a sentence here which raises important questions:

"The average homeowner would pay $59 more a year by 2017 for a $250,000 home assessed at $21,546."

That $21,546 assessment on a $250,000 home is 6.2% of market value.

A home near the beach recently sold for close to its asking price of $1,350,000.  Its assessment was $19,200, and its annual county taxes $707.  (The land was assessed at $11,250, and the building, which will likely be removed at a cost of $20,000 or more, at $7,950, so next year, its taxes will drop to $414.)    That $19,200 assessment is 1.4% of market value, and next year, it would be 0.8% of market value. 

If that property's assessment was 6.2% of market value, it would be $83,700, not $19,200.

So keep in mind that until Sussex County reassesses its land value to current market values, the well-located folks will be paying quite a bit less than their fair share of it.

Not a reason to vote against this expenditure, but something to think about.

Who benefits from these ancient assessments?  And who is overtaxed because of them?

County council, where are you?

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