Indian River School District will host several more public meetings to inform the public about the Feb. 5 referendum:
• Jan. 16 — Georgetown Middle School, 6 p.m.
• Jan. 23 — Indian River High School, 6 p.m.
• Jan. 30 — Lord Baltimore Elementary School, 6 p.m.
In addition, the district will host two public meetings for senior citizens, to explain the referendum and highlight the various tax-assistance programs available to seniors:
• Jan. 23 — Indian River High School, 10 a.m.
• Jan. 24 — Sussex Central High School, 10 a.m.
For more information, contact Indian River’s Referendum Hotline at (302) 436-1079 or visit www.irsd.net/referendum.
For people who are low-income, or senior citizens who recently retired to Delaware, a school tax increase might not sound ideal. So the Indian River School District will host two public meetings specifically geared toward seniors, to discuss the Feb. 5 public referendum for new building projects.
Residents who are disabled, senior citizens or low-income are all eligible for property tax discounts through Sussex County and the State of Delaware.
“There are probably an awful lot of seniors who don’t know about the senior tax incentives. It doesn’t hurt us,” because the discounts are subsidized by the State, said IRSD Superintendent Mark Steele. “The school taxes still come to us — we get the full value.”
All meetings are open to the public, although the daytime meetings will be especially geared toward seniors. They’re set for:
• Wednesday, Jan. 23, at 10 a.m. at Indian River High School, 29772 Armory Road, Dagsboro; and
• Thursday, Jan. 24, at 10 a.m. at Sussex Central High School, 26026 Patriots Way, Georgetown.
General public meetings will also be held on Jan. 16 at 6 p.m. at Georgetown Middle School, Jan. 23 at 6 p.m. at Indian River High School and Jan. 30 at 6 p.m. at Lord Baltimore Elementary School.
“We think it’s their advantage to know,” said Steele. “When I would go out and do some of my presentations, I would see the look on people’s faces: they wouldn’t know [about the discounts]. We really should be making sure people are aware of that because people are fixed-income … we can at least provide some support.”
Daytime meetings have two benefits. First, the older population is often more active during the daytime, but not always comfortable driving at night. Plus, they can actually visit the schools — some of them for the first time.
“The biggest thing I would like people to do is to get educated on how this referendum is,” both how the funding works and also IRSD’s own goal in rebuilding its reserve fund, said Steele. “We scrape every penny we can save.”
The IRSD’s daily operating fund is adequate this school year, unlike in 2016-2017. Now, they need capital to build more classrooms, plus enough money to staff and supply those rooms.
Senior citizens who move into the district may not have school-aged children or grandchildren attending local schools. But all property owners are taxed at the same rate, either to pay themselves or passed on to their tenants. Steele said he doesn’t believe that only families with school-age children should pay for education.
“Our kids are going to be the community — people who live, make a living, work. They’re going to have taxes removed from their check to fund other services in the community,” Steele countered. “If we pinpoint [who to tax] … that’s going to open a can of worms where it’s going to extend way beyond school taxes.”
Sussex County tax bills are mailed out in August and must be paid by Sept. 30. Any property owner can view tax assessments or assistance options online at www.SussexCountyDE.gov (click on “Tax information” link at the bottom right). For information or applications, they can also call (302) 855-7824 or contact Sussex County Assessment Division; P.O. Box 589; Georgetown, DE 19947.
Right now, district officials said, they just want people to make an informed decision.
“We get [the public] in our schools, we get to help them, we get to educate them on what this is about,” said Steele. “And then they can decide.”
By Laura Walter