The Town of Ocean View held a budget workshop earlier this week at which the status of property reassessments was reviewed.
“This is very complicated and confusing,” said Finance Director Dawn Parks, noting that she understands the frustration of the town’s property owners.
Parks explained that, last year, the Town tried to save taxpayers money by switching to Sussex County’s assessment figures, rather than doing their own.
“That did not go as expected, and in September a decision was made to not only revert back to having a town assessor for future years but also to do a revised billing for FY19.”
Parks said the whole town was reassessed for the 2018 fiscal year, by Appraisal Services.
“There were 131 letters generated and sent to property owners, telling them they had a change in their assessment,” she said.
A revised assessment list was made available in the Town’s administrative office earlier this month and will be used for the 2020-fiscal-year billing and the revised billing for the 2019 fiscal year.
Parks said that, as part of the correction, the old assessment values were removed from the payment system; however, the payments provided by property owners remained. The new assessments were then reimported. The reassessments were then processed at the 50 percent property tax rate increase adopted with the 2019-fiscal-year budget.
“This is not the revised billing. The revised billing will not be completed until April. It is an interim step,” said Parks of the new assessment, noting that the assessments available online now are through April 30, 2018.
Parks said the estimated difference between the May 2018 original billing and the recalculated 2019 bills that are out on the website now is just over $4,000 less total than what the Town had originally billed. By law, the Town’s budget must be revenue-neutral.
“We are very happy with that figure,” said Town Manager Carol Houck.
Currently, Appraisal Services is looking at permits through March 31, 2019, with the goal of having reassessments to the Town by May 15.
“Our intention is to do the May billing. It will go out as normal,” said Parks, noting that some property owners’ bills did increase. “Any credits generated by this revised billing will go against the bills that will be mailed in May. Any amounts due will also be on the May bill and not due until Aug. 31. If someone sees they owe money … they are not delinquent.”
Houck said Town staff have taken a great number of calls regarding reassessments.
“It’s been a lot of effort — especially during the budget process. Everybody has pitched in and walked everyone through what you’ve just heard. The May billing will catch us up to where we should’ve been in ’19. The July billing is our normal FY20 billing… Then it should be smooth sailing.”
Mayor Pro-Tem Tom Maly commended Parks, Houck and the staff for their hard work.
“I know this has been a long project,” he said. “Next year will not be like this.”
Also at the meeting, Houck gave an overview of the 2020-fiscal-year operating budget. She noted the draft budget does not include the Town assuming any tax rate increase.
The 2018-fiscal-year tax rate was .1652 per $100 of assessed value. The council voted last year for a 50 percent tax increase, bringing the rate to .2478 per $100 of assessed value for 2019. There is no proposed tax rate increase for the 2020 budget.
The draft budget includes maintaining cash holdings for two months of operating costs, totaling $632,000. It funds the Street Repair & Replacement Trust Fund (25 percent of each month’s transfer tax revenues) and Capital Reserves Trust Fund (at 12.5 percent of each month’s transfer tax revenues).
The draft budget also includes the addition of one fulltime Public Works employee, and allows for a COLA adjustment for current employees and up to a 3 percent wage increase based on above-average performance.
A line item of $34,000 has been included for new rubber mulch product for John West Park.
“It has a life expectancy of 20 years,” said Houck.
Resident Ann Scolari voiced her concern regarding the cost of the mulch product.
Houck said she herself had been wary of the product, but she had traveled to Lititz, Pa., to learn about it. The product is not susceptible to mold and is not made of tires.
“The wood mulch within six months starts deteriorating and losing its safety factor. … It doesn’t get hot like some of the other rubber mulch. … All of the people we called have been very happy with it. It pays for itself in about four years,” Houck added.
She noted that the Town has instituted daily and weekly safety checks at the playground.
“This has become one very popular playground for children during the summer,” said Maly. “The safety aspect is very, very important.”
The draft also includes $21,500 for four community events, including Cops & Goblins.
“Some of the Town’s events have been canceled in recent years,” said Houck. “There’s been some desire to see them come back in different formats.”
She said the idea is to host four quality seasonal events, with a focus on the residents of the community. Events tentatively priced out include a spring concert series, food-truck Fridays, classic-movie Wednesdays and a “ye olde town” holiday market and tree-lighting.
The town council will hold a budget workshop on Tuesday, March 12, at 6 p.m., with its regular monthly meeting beginning at 7 p.m. the same evening.
Those with questions related to reassessments may call the Town administrative office at (302) 539-9797.
By Maria Counts