County to offer 30-day tax amnesty period

Sussex County officials recently announced plans to offer a 30-day tax amnesty program designed to get delinquent taxpayers caught up, with the incentive of a 50 percent cut in interest penalties due on the taxes owed to county and school district coffers.

The program is part of an effort designed to collect millions of dollars owed by some 18,000 delinquent account holders, and the tax-amnesty element is aimed at bringing in an estimated $7 million in back taxes – approximately $6 million to the eight independent school districts inside Sussex County, with the remaining $1 million owed to the county itself.

“We’re hopeful these individuals will see this as an opportunity to put themselves back in good standing,” Treasury Director Amanda M. Bennett said. “It isn’t often that opportunity presents itself. So we encourage those delinquent taxpayers to take this second chance while it lasts.”

The amnesty program is the second such program offered in as many months by Sussex County in an effort to help those behind on their taxes and fees settle their debts and avoid a portion of the penalties. In December, the county rolled out an amnesty program for more than 5,000 delinquent sewer accounts that, in total, owe approximately $1.8 million in back fees.

Sewer customers in the Long Neck and Oak Orchard sewer areas were offered the program in December, and 315 have already participated.

Sewer customers in the Dewey Beach, Bethany Beach, South Bethany, Fenwick Island, Ocean View and Millville sewer districts were to receive information on the program in their February billing materials, giving them 30 days – until approximately March 1 – to pay overdue bills in full and take advantage of 50 percent amnesty program.

Both programs are a first for Sussex County, officials noted on Jan. 19, and are part of a larger, more concerted effort by the county in recent months to collect millions of dollars due to local government, which they noted has been affected, like others, by the slumping economy.

In the case of delinquent taxpayers, county officials said they wanted to offer some incentives to leverage results before turning to stiffer measures – including the use of its new collections manager, warning letters, liens on property and, eventually, sheriff sales.

Like all good things, county officials cautioned, the incentives will come to an end.

Under the tax amnesty program, a delinquent taxpayer would have 30 days to pay the total amount due in County and school taxes to qualify for a 50-percent forgiveness in interest penalties.

For example, they said, a customer owing $500 in back taxes over a one-year period would be assessed a 1.5-percent-per-month penalty, equaling $90, for a total bill of $590. By settling the debt during the amnesty period, the customer would save $45 in interest penalties.

Details of the program, including the due date, were to be included in mid-year billings scheduled to be mailed to delinquent taxpayers in February.

County officials said the ultimate goal is to ensure the county has the funds necessary to provide services for all its taxpayers.

“Sussex County has some of the lowest property taxes in the country and has managed its budgets so well over the years that no new taxes are expected in the foreseeable future,” County Council President Vance C. Phillips said. “But it is unfair to all the citizens who faithfully pay their taxes on time to allow delinquents to jeopardize the fiscal health of everybody.

“I hope those who have found themselves in arrears for whatever reason will take advantage of this amnesty program in order to help keep our ship of County government secure,” Phillips added.

For additional information on the tax amnesty program, contact the Sussex County Treasury Division at (302) 855-7760.