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12/19/2016
Odessa National Golf Club owes a half-million dollars in back taxes; Weiner: Taxpayers are angry; there is a simple legislative fix

"I was angry as a taxpayer as well as a councilman, and I heard that anger come through clearly from my constituents," said Councilman Bob Weiner after he heard and read WDEL's story.

"I'm hearing from constituent that it's Odessa National--and others--that are just using this as a strategy, and there are some major players that are abusing the system of us not requiring them to at least put up a bond, which is pretty standard in any legal system," said Councilman Bob Weiner.

Weiner called it a simple fix to add a requirement for an appeal bond--action that can be taken by county council.

"The business decision just not to pay even after you lose--what's the illegal interest rate? What, 2 percent? If so, for us to lack an appeal bond is not taking advantage of a simple fix," said Weiner. "As a businessperson, it just makes more sense to pay later."

Weiner recommended council try to work with legislators to change the law surrounding the Board of Assessment. He also recommended the county consider a rotating citizen board that could meet more frequently.

"For us to be hamstrung by three volunteers that can't get together more often makes no sense at all," Weiner said.



'Odessa National needs a wake-up call' as New Castle County Council seeks assessment reforms in wake of WDEL story 

WDEL Amy Cherry  Dec 19, 2016 -

New Castle County Council's finance committee received an update on uncollected taxes from finance department, prompted by WDEL's exclusive story regarding unpaid back taxes on the part of Odessa National Golf Club.

"We aren't doing nothing--when they become delinquent, we still act," said Denzil "Denny" Hardman with New Castle County's finance department, who gave a special presentation Tuesday following a request from finance committee co-chairman Councilman George Smiley.

Hardman gave a presentation to finance committee members Tuesday:  Hardman said most properties aren't scofflaws like Odessa National--which WDEL exposed as owing more than $500,000 in back school taxes to the Appoquinimink School District, where voters face a referendum vote Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2016. Odessa National is appealing their assessment in a process which has dragged on for years.

"I was angry as a taxpayer as well as a councilman, and I heard that anger come through clearly from my constituents," said Councilman Bob Weiner after he heard and read WDEL's story.

Hardman insisted cases like Odessa National are rare.

"Most of the appellants pay--they pay up front--and then, if they win, they get a credit for what's been paid," said Hardman. "But there are some that do not pay, and that's code that gives them that right."

The claim that the right not to pay during appeal is in the code has been repeated by various county officials, but has been unfounded.  Nowhere in Delaware Code could WDEL find that stipulation laid out.

"As an attorney and as an elected officials, when I pressed further on that 'in code,' it was just double speak," said Weiner. "It seems to me that the county law department and the state legislature need to address this, and if this hasn't occurred to them yet, then I'm happy to start this conversation."

A 2012 payment agreement between Odessa National owner, the late Joseph Capano, and then-County Executive Paul Clark, obtained by WDEL, details a financial agreement between the two parties. The agreement details an arrangement for the golf club to pay $500 on the first of each month to satisfy outstanding New Castle County taxes. Records show, Odessa National made its last large payment of more than $7,300 in July of 2010. After that, despite the agreement, payments ceased for two years and picked back up again in May of 2012--when the agreement was signed. Since then, payments range from $500 to $1,500 each month.

The county, according to finance policy, provided to WDEL, said payments first go towards outstanding sewer fees, then county taxes, followed by school taxes.

To date, Odessa National owes $509,632.83 in school taxes to Appoquinimink. Outstanding county taxes owed are $178,846.06. Neither Odessa National nor the law firm that represents it, Saul Ewing, returned WDEL's request for comment.

Odessa National Golf Club owes a half-million dollars in back taxes.  

"I think they need a wakeup call. They haven't gotten it, and a lot of folks that have chosen to move to southern New Castle County from out-of-state because of high school taxes are probably going to be moving back, if it keeps going on," said Councilman Bill Bell.

Odessa National Golf Club owes a half-million dollars in back taxes.  

"I'm hearing from constituents that it's Odessa National--and others--that are just using this as a strategy, and there are some major players that are abusing the system of us not requiring them to at least put up a bond, which is pretty standard in any legal system," said Councilman Bob Weiner.

Weiner called it a simple fix to add a requirement for an appeal bond--action that can be taken by county council.

"The business decision just not to pay even after you lose--what's the illegal interest rate? What, 2 percent? If so, for us to lack an appeal bond is not taking advantage of a simple fix," said Weiner. "As a businessperson, it just makes more sense to pay later."

Hardman said the county's collected 99 percent of back-due taxes; however, that still leaves an outstanding balance of millions owed to New Castle County's school districts.

Councilman Penrose Hollins applauded the department's reported collection rate.

"When I hear 99 percent, and I consider other political jurisdictions throughout the country, I think that's outstanding work," he said. "We can focus on the one percent...if we can improve it fine, but to have a five hour conversation about that one percent, I don't know where we're trying to go with that."

New Council President Karen Hartley-Nagle questioned that notion.

"I'm also going to continue to ask about the one percent...when I get asked by my constituents, they're going to want to know about the one-percent," she said.

A PROCESS IN DESPERATE NEED OF REFORM

WDEL first reported the New Castle County Board of Assessment suffers from a backlog of at least 400 cases.

"We're getting more appeals than we can do," said Hardman. "So even if we were totally caught up today, in the next three months, we'd be behind again."

Hardman said it's on his agenda to work with the volunteer Board of Assessment to overcome obstacles contributing the backlog.

"I'm working on a plan to try to catch that backlog up," he said. "The law anticipates the appeal process being filed in March and being done in July...but in reality that doesn't happen. We don't have enough board members and enough days to hear all of the appeals that are filed by the deadline through July 1."

Hardman--through county spokeswoman Robin Brown--refused a request for an interview to answer more questions about that plan.

Weiner recommended council try to work with legislators to change the law surrounding the Board of Assessment. He also recommended the county consider a rotating citizen board that could meet more frequently.

"For us to be hamstrung by three volunteers that can't get together more often makes no sense at all," Weiner said.

Smiley hopes incoming County Executive Matt Meyer will take a hard look at the assessment process and potentially put a merit attorney--with no political concerns--in that department.

"It's a bad rap for the assessment department and everyone that's involved in collections in New Castle County, and quite honestly, it's unfair," said Smiley. "I can go four houses each way on me, and none of those eight homeowners want to be supplementing the property across the street where they're not paying their taxes." 

Amy Cherry is the Assistant News Director and an investigative and general assignment reporter and anchor for WDEL. She joined WDEL's award-winning news team in 2010 from WBZ Newsradio 1030 in Boston and has received national accolades for reporting.



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