New legislation recently passed by New Castle County Councilman Tim Sheldon will help residents behind on their property taxes due to COVID-19 a chance to get caught up, penalty-free.
"Since this COVID thing has been going on, people...haven't been able to pay their real estate tax," Sheldon said. "There's been more people that have been delinquent in the past two years than before, so what this legislation does is--it does not forego the money that they owe--what it does is it takes away the interest and the penalties for paying late or not paying at all."
Passing unanimously with a 13-0 vote, Ordinance No. 21-033 provides residents "a limited amnesty period for outstanding penalties associated with delinquent principal tax obligations," and provides a stay of penalization through June 25, 2021. As long as those behind pay what they owe by that date, there would be no additional fees.
Sheldon said, the county government's previous attempt at a program like this helped raise $5.4 million in previously uncollected funds--most of which go to schools--from people looking to take advantage of getting caught up on bills while avoiding penalization.
"We don't think we're going to get that amount of money," he said. "I hope we do, but basically we're trying to do this one more time through this pandemic to get everybody on the straight and narrow, so their credit score goes up."
Since most of that money the county collects goes to the school district--"Seventy percent of the money that's in your county property tax is school tax. We collect it and turn it over to school districts. They're always in need of money."--so Sheldon said the magic of the program is incentivizing people to help them get caught up, while helping provide the schools more funding to continue their educational efforts.
"I've heard it from constituents, that's why I did it. They're saying, 'Look, we're trying to catch up. This is a problem...We want to stay current,' or they always have been before, but now, the arrears, all the money they owed, they weren't able to come up with the interest, penalties, and stuff like that," Sheldon said. "This gives them motivation to say, 'Hey, look, I'm going to pay this thing off.' The pandemic's getting better. Jobs are coming back. I think this helps them and just gives them a clean, new slate."
Because helping the county collect money it was owed was definitely a motivator for the legislation, Sheldon said, but helping the people of the county was just as important.
"I really thought, as a working class guy myself, that the middle class, through this pandemic, has been forgotten," Sheldon said. "The working class guy, this is what I did for [them]."