Chicken Farmers Circulate Petition - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Chicken Farmers Circulate Petition

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GEORGETOWN, Del. - A coalition of chicken farmers delivered a petition to Sussex County on Tuesday, calling for help in reducing their school taxes. The petition had 222 signatures, and argued that chicken farmers pay a disproportionately high amount of the school taxes. 

The petition reads the following: 

This is a petition asking for farmers to sign protesting the disparity of school taxes that is charged to Sussex County farmers. A     farmer is charged approximately $4,842 per year for owning 4 chicken houses but yet the average home owner is only charged     $850 per year. Chicken farmers feel they are paying way more of their fair share.

"It's unfair," said Donald Steen one of the organizers of the petition. "We're being discriminated against for some reason because of all the square footage on these farms. It's just unfair." 

WBOC met with Chris Keeler from the Office of Assessment, who said the county is in a way stuck between a rock and a hard place. The county collects the taxes for the school districts, but the state sets the formulas for tax collection. 

As established in the 1974 county assessment, chicken houses are set at a rate of $1.75 for every square foot. That number is then multiplied by a rate, set by the school districts, and voted on by referendums. Below is the formula for finding tax totals for a chicken house: 

.0175 * (chicken house sq. ft) * School District Rate. 

Below is a list of the rates by Sussex County school districts. 

Indian River: 3.3491

Laurel: 4.3311

Seaford: 4.0461

Milford: 4.1920

Woodbridge: 4.4501

Cape Henlopen: 3.7031

Delmar: 4.4835. 

Communications director for County Government Chip Guy said that currently state code allows for exemptions of farmland and certain accessory structures such as manure sheds. However he said there are no provisions that exempt poultry houses. 

"Just as the County does not set local school tax rates," Guy said. "The County does not control these tax exemptions." 

Chicken farmer Charles Hudson said he wanted the state to address the high taxes for chicken farmers through either a change in the assessment value and rate formula or through the initiation of new exemptions. 

"We're paying by the square foot," he said. "Doesn't matter how much profit you make. It's just square foot. It's a flat rate." 

State Auditor Thomas Wagner said that a reassessment without adjusting the formula, would not necessarily help the chicken farmers. He said that some property values would go up, and some would go down in a re-assessment. 

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