New Castle County council member Bob Weiner, Second District, is expected to introduce an ordinance that would require legal sign-off from the county's attorney at the Jan. 14 council meeting.
If adopted, Weiner said the ordinance would require a signature by the county attorney's department on all legislation emanating from the Executive Branch, indicating approval as to legislation format and legality.
"Every government from congress to the … Sussex county council has certification that the law they're passing is constitutional and legal," Weiner said. "To do otherwise is to subject the county to a lawsuit that would unnecessarily hurt our taxpayers."
Weiner said that there is the potential for "significant fiscal impact upon taxpayers" if the legislation is not adopted, adding that legal certification is a best practice in both local government and the private sector.
Weiner cited a volume of tax penalty abatement requests from numerous residents in a variety of amounts as an example of the ordinance's necessity.
He also said it was his belief that the influx of abatement requests is likely coming from some person or agency that seeks out abandoned properties about to be seized through escheatment.
They then locate and share that information with the heirs for a finder's fee.
"That's not even a real problem; someone found a business niche and they're taking advantage of it – the real problem is, no one is guarding the chicken coop," Weiner said. "No one … is certifying whether or not there is a lawful exception that the application of abatement fits in to."
Weiner said that County Council members by default are being asked to make legal interpretations without receiving advance certification as to form and content by Law and Finance.
The council already has de facto certification through its counsel to council personnel, Weiner said, who reviews and approves legislation.
Weiner added that the situation exists because of an oversight that is long overdue for correction.
"This would mean more work for the county attorney … but that's the whole purpose for having a legal review," he said.
Weiner said he believed that council would pass his ordinance, adding that it's been a scary race to the finish line.
Council is expected to consider the proposal at the Tuesday, Jan. 14 meeting.