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The levy court in Delaware, as a body for tax control, originated in the Dutch period (1655-1664) with the authorization given to Jean Paul Jacquet who levied the first taxes in the locality.1 In his instructions he was advised by his superiors that, in order to prevent an inordinate desire for land “he shall in place of tithes, exact from each morgen (about an acre) of land provisionally, 12 stivers (24 cents in gold) annually.”2
With the advent of the English in 1664,3 courts on the Delaware were established, presided over by justices of the peace who were also magistrates.4 Sir Robert Carr assumed command and by the terms of agreement the civil powers of magistrates were continued: “...the present Magistrates shall be continued in the Offices and Jurisdictions to exercise their civil powers as formally (sic).”5 These civil powers, which were in addition to judicial duties of the justices of the peace, consisted of the levying of taxes, such as excise on beer and liquors, poundage, and like products, and land, for the purpose of defraying the expenses of public works and the salaries of public officials.
Early mention of the constable is contained in the additional orders promulgated for the government on the Delaware, May 17, 1672.6 Constables, confirmed or chosen by the justice of the peace or the levy court,7 have held a prominent part in the taxing of the people on the Delaware ever since. The laws of the Duke of York provided that “All assessments shall be made by the constables and eight overseers of the Parrish.”8 After the appointment of assessors in 1696-1697 (see below), the constables furnished lists of “tydables,” or taxables in their hundreds for assessment purposes9 and at the present time still act as bailiffs for the levy court.10
In 1673 the Dutch recaptured their former holdings on the Delaware and Governor-General Anthony Colve was placed in command. He promptly issued instructions among which were: “The Sheriffs and Schepens shall have power to conclude on some ordinances for the welfare and peace of the inhabitants of their district, such as laying out Highways, setting off lands and gardens...erecting churches, schoolhouses or similar public works,”11 demonstrating that these officials had taxing powers in addition to their judicial authority.12 Colve also established three courts, one of which was at New Amstel (New Castle) “to which provisionally shall resort the inhabitants dwelling on the east and west banks of the Kristina kill unto Boomties Hook with those of Apoquenamins kill inclusive.”13 In equity matters the Upland court exercised complete jurisdiction. The justices, either as a court or board performed all the duties that were later performed by the county commissioners, directors of the poor and auditors, granting applications for taking up land, receiving returns of surveys and transfers of real estate, regulating the affairs of the church, and attending to the repairs of highways, and maintenance of fences.14
When this territory was returned to the English in 1674 these courts retained jurisdiction, and exercised fiscal functions.15
Upon the transfer of government to William Penn, the first court in what is now the State of Delaware was held in 1682.16 His charter for Pennsylvania and the Delaware counties provided that the poor should apply to the justices of the peace for temporary aid until the next meeting of the county court.17 Following closely the original method of levying taxes he decreed: “And to the end that Due provisions be made to defray the requisite Charges incident to the public business and service of this Province and territories thereof, Be it Enacted by &c, That the Charges of each County shall be made up in open Court Shall have, and hereby hath power to Assess and lay such taxes upon the County as shall Defray the same, so that it be equal and according to proportion; And that one half of the said tax to be paid, shall be raised upon land, the other half by the poll, on the Male from Sixteen, to Sixty of age...”18
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With the advance costs of government, definite needs had to be met and the levying of taxes could not be left to the discretion of the justices. Penn therefore put into effect a law providing that “The Justices shall, either at their Quarter Sessions, or at a Session for that purpose appointed, Calculate the publick charges of the County & Shall allow all Just accompts, and make a Rate or assessment for the speedy raising of Sd. sums payable from the County, to Defray the Said accompt so as aforesaid allowed. Provided also That the Grand Jury shall present any sum necessary to be raised, either for the paying any publick Debt, or other occassion for the publick Utility of the County. It shall be lawful for the Sd. Justices to make the said rate or assessment, which shall be raised in the same manner as moneys are by the Sessions agreed to be raised for the support of the government.” This law also provided that “money for the support of the Poor shall be paid first,” and for the rate of assessment.19
The appointment of assessors, 1696-1697, six in each county, was authorized to assist the justices of the counties and the grand jurymen “to calculate the public charge of the County” and to “allow all just debts dues and accounts.” And it was enacted that “the said assessors shall appoint a Treasurer in their respective Counties, who shall keep a distinct book, Containing a peculiar account of all the rates & assessments made as aforesaid, as also of all disbursements and payments he hath made by order from the Justices & assessors, which said Treasurer shall in the Seventh month yearly, bring in his accompts & make them up in open Court before the Justices of said Courts and assessors, and all other that are willing to be present at the Auditing thereof...”20
Supposedly, the act which definitely established a separate levy court was passed in 1736 under George II and was entitled “An Act for raising county-rates and levies.” Section 3 of this law provided “That the Justices of the Peace of the respective counties within this government, or any three of them...shall meet yearly, and every year, for laying the levies, together with eight Grand Jury-men...and assessors, or the majority of them, shall meet at the court house... and then there proceed to calculate and settle and adjust the sums of money which ought of necessity to be received yearly to defray the charges of building and repairing court houses, prisons, workhouses...with such other uses as may redound to the public service and with power to make good deficiencies and to collect and enforce collections.”21
Authority was also given to the clerk of the peace in this year to officiate as clerk of the levy court, and he was required to enter in him minutes the names of all persons to whom money was payable and particular cases for which money was appropriated, also fair and true duplicates for the county treasurer.22
In 1743 the method of raising taxes in the “lower counties,” as the three Delaware counties were called, underwent another revision. At the regular October election for the Assembly, an assessor was chosen for each hundred by the voters, the service to be compulsory. The Tuesday following the meeting of quarter sessions in November, the justices of the peace in each county, together with eight grand jurymen and the assessors formed a finance board for the purpose of estimating the amount needed to meet the expenses for the coming year. An appropriation bill, listing items and the amount required for each was drawn up. In August the county clerk directed the constables of each hundred or district to prepare lists containing the full name of all taxables or freemen in each district.23 In 1752 a supplementary act was passed authorizing the Levy Court to appoint a County Treasurer.24
In 1775 a law was passed providing that overseers of the poor be appointed by justices of the peace. Service was compulsory and it was the duty of the overseers to levy special taxes in each hundred for maintenance of the local needy.25
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In 1791 the Levy Court was further reorganized and the function of setting as a court of appeals was added.26 In this year the Trustees of the Poor were created by the Assembly in order to safeguard the interests of the indigent poor, the Trustees to be appointed by the Levy Court.27
On June 14, 1793, the Assembly passed the act which provided that the Levy Court and Court of Appeals should be composed of commissioners elected by the people, eleven for New Castle County.
Two were to be elected for Appoquinimink Hundred and one each from the other hundreds.28 The first meeting of the Levy Court composed of commissioners elected by the people was held November 26, 1793.29
On February 26, 1796, an amendment was passed which provided that the court of appeals receive the returns of valuation of the assessors and remedy complaints.30 As for the assessment, the law also said “as to those single men who have no visible estate, they shall not be rated under twelve pounds nor above Twenty-four Pounds.”31 In 1797 an amendment was passed giving authority to the Levy Court to raise money to maintain the poor, and lay out and repair causeways, bridges, and public roads.32
The law of 1829 further defined the scope and functions of the Levy Court and Court of Appeals. It stated that the Levy Court should be composed of commissioners; that no county treasurer, trustee of the poor, coroner or sheriff should be, during his term of office, a commissioner of said court; that the clerk of peace should, after, the 12th or before the 15th of September of each year make known to the sheriff the names of the commissioners of each county to be elected; the assessors of the several hundreds in each county should take oath before Levy Court; they were compelled to turn in the assessments and valuations to the court; the Court was ordered to sit as a court of appeal the first Tuesday in March of each year; and from the decisions of the Levy Court there was no appeal.33
The General Assembly in 1891 again changed the law in respect to the election of the Levy Court Commissioners and divided the county into five districts, one Levy Court member to be elected from each district.34 In 1892, the office of Receiver of Taxes and County Treasurer, heretofore filled through appointment by the levy court, was made elective, to be filled through appointment by the levy court, was made elective, to be filled by the voters and the general election, for a term of four years and bonded in the sum of $50,000.35
In 1901 the Levy Court districts of New Castle County were increased from five to seven, a commissioner to be elected from each district.36
Gathering statutory power each year, the Levy Court soon became the most important executive power in the county.37 It had charge of roads and bridges and appointed a Supervisor of Roads in each rural district annually and fixed his compensation.38 His duty was to make all road repairs under the supervision of the county road engineer.39 It appointed the Board of Assessment40 and fixed the fees of the Assessors.
The Levy Court appointed tax collectors for a period of two years.41 It appointed constables for the rural districts42 and appropriated moneys for various charitable organizations including childrens’ charities,43 and fire prevention.44 It is authorized to appoint its own legal counsel.45 It paid one-half the salary and cost expenses of the Chief Probation Officer of the Juvenile Court and cost of maintenance of juvenile offenders.46 A former duty of the Levy Court concerned the allotment of rooms in the county courthouse to accommodate the courts and their officers, the sheriff, register of wills, recorder, and other county officials, for the use of the county’s jail quarters, and for the New Castle County Law Library Association.47
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The Levy Court received and published reports of the County Comptroller of audits of county officers.48 The Levy Court was required to pay the expenses incurred in fighting or extinguishing fires,49 supply an ambulance, and give financial aid to the State Tuberculosis Commission.50 The office for a coroner and a morgue were equipped by this body.51 It furnished financial aid to Sabbath schools52 and appointed freeholders to select sites for schoolhouses53 and furnished uniforms for bailiffs.54
The Levy Court made appropriations for the New Castle County Workhouse and provided and paid for the maintenance of the prisoners therein from this county.55 It appropriated money for the maintenance and instruction of each person in the Delaware Industrial School for Girls.56 Annual funds were also provided for Trustees of the Home of Friendless and Destitute Children and similar charities.57 It was responsible for all public works of the county, such as the erection and repair of public buildings.58 The salaries of judge, clerk, and bailiff of the Court of Common Pleas were paid by the levy court59 and one of the three members of the Public Building Commission was appointed by it,60 as were also the members of the Board of Assessment.61
The Levy Court had the power to widen, straighten or alter the course of small streams or creeks.62 It fixed the capitation rate and other county taxes.63 The law provides that it shall have full control of the business and finances of New Castle County;64 levy the annual tax;65 consider all bills against the county, read and examine the same in public sessions and draw an order in favor of the debtors if approved.66
The Levy Court constructed sewage and sewage disposals outside of incorporated towns,67 was authorized to borrow emergency loans,68 and to make appropriations for free libraries outside of Wilmington.69 It also provided for the illumination of streets in unincorporated towns on receipt of petitions from residents.70
After May 1911, the Levy Court appointed police for Brandywine and Christiana Hundreds “who held office during the pleasure of the Levy Court with all the police powers conferred on the present constables.”71
On April 13, 1935, the Delaware Legislature again reorganized the Levy Court and this time quite drastically. The official title was changed to “The Levy Court Commissioners of New Castle County.” The county was redivided into three Levy Court districts, the city of Wilmington being the 1st; all of the remainder of New Castle County excepting Pencader, St. Georges, Red Lion, Appoquinimink and Blackbird Hundreds, the 2nd; and the above-named hundreds to comprise the 3rd.72 After the first day of July 1935, all public roads, highways and bridges previously under the Levy Court were placed under the absolute care, management, and control of the State Highway Department and the Levy Court was relieved from any further responsibility save to complete outstanding future contracts. All taxation for road purposes for the future was to be omitted.73
The establishing of a State Old Age Welfare Commission and Home in 1931 abolished automatically the Trustees of the Poor heretofore appointed by the Levy Court.74 The law says: “When the Alms Houses shall have been abolished...The Trustees of the Poor in each County shall make a full and complete settlement with the Levy Court of such County and shall cause all funds in their possession, or under their control, to be paid to the Treasurer of the County...The said Trustees of the Poor, as a corporation, shall then be dissolved.”75
The law also provided that “The salary of the members of the Department of Elections and the Secretary thereof shall be paid by the Levy Court of New Castle County in the same manner as county officers were paid.”76 Offices, then allotted by the Public Building Commission, were also to be provided for the Department by the Levy Court.77
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The Levy Court could appropriate funds for public improvements at its discretion.78 The 1939 law provided that all collectors of taxes were to be released and their duties transferred to the office of Receiver of Taxes and County Treasurer.79 All State highway bonds were likewise released to the State Highway Department.80
In 1941 power and duties were further defined as “general jurisdiction over all matter pertaining to the County, its..., the power to act upon all matters pertaining to sewers, sewerage disposal plants, trunk line sewers and sewerage systems, generally engineering construction of public buildings, fire protection, ambulance service, general supervision of county offices, public welfare institutions, fire companies, and other matters of a public nature.”81
The Levy Court was authorized to purchase land, and to construct and maintain an airport and landing field in New Castle County.82
In the same year the Levy Court was authorized to appoint a County Engineer and assistants as needed;83 pay the operational and maintenance expenses of the New Castle County Workhouse;84 to appoint a Collector of Deliquent Taxes;85 and to furnish record books for Recorder of Deeds.86 Changes in 1943 included orders for the Levy Court to create the office of Building Inspector and staff and to promulgate a building code,87 and a plumbing code.88
Sanitary districts “for the purpose of providing installation and maintenance of sewerage systems...” were created by legislation in 1945.89
In 1949 additional police were appointed;90 sanitation districts were revised;91 Saturday adopted as a ‘holiday’ for elected and appointed official and employees except for members of Department of Public Safety and firemen;92 and Levy Court was directed to pay for cleaning of tax ditches in the county.93
Bonds were issued for fire hydrants and water mains in suburban communities in 1951.94
In 1965 the Levy Court form of government was abolished and the county government was totally reorganized. For description of the new organization see New Castle County Council (RG 2201).
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1 Scharf, vol. 1, pg. 62.
2 Leon deValinger, Jr., Development of Local Government in Delaware, p. 85, hereinafter cited as deValinger.
3 Duke of York’s Laws, p. 446.
4 Scharf, vol. 2, pg. 623.
5 Duke of York Laws, pg. 446.
6 Ibid, pg. 450-451.
7 Duke of York Laws, pg. 22, 23.
8 Ibid, pg. 9.
9 Duke of York Laws, pg. 222.
10 Rev. Code 1852, ch. 8, sec. 30.
11 Duke of York Laws, pg. 453.
12 deValinger, pg. 85.
13 Duke of York Laws, pg. 453.
14 Ibid, pg. 463.
15 Ibid, pg. 462.
16 Hazard, pg. 599-600.
17 Duke of York Laws, pg. 115.
18 Ibid, pg. 146-147.
19 Ibid, pg. 233.
20 Ibid, pg. 257-258.
21 No copy of this act can be found now, however, tax lists found among early County records substantiate the existence of such an act.
22 1 DL, 1797, ch. 102, pp. 261-262.
23 1 DL, ch. 102, pg. 260.
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24 1 DL, 1797, ch. 137, pg. 329.
25 1 DL, ch. 225a, pp. 544-561.
26 2 DL, ch. 228b, pp. 1014-1016.
27 2 DL, ch. 218b, pp. 988-998.
28 1 DL, 1797, ch. 18c; Scharf, vol. 2, pg. 628; 2 DL, ch. 18c., pp. 1086-1088.
29 1 DL, 1797, ch. 125, p. 259, note d.
30 1 DL, 1797, ch. 125c, sec. 1.
31 1 DL, 1797, ch. 187, sec. 12.
32 1 DL, 1797, ch. 125c, sec. 1.
33 Messersmith, p. 22; 7 DL, ch. 132, pp. 262-264.
34 19 DL, ch. 26, secs. 1, 2, 3; Conrad, vol. 1, pp. 290-291.
35 19 DL, ch. 26, sec. 6.
36 22 DL, ch. 50, sec. 6, pp. 83-84.
37 Messersmith, pg. 22; 7 DL, ch. 132, pp. 262-264.
38 Ibid, p. 20.
39 24 DL, ch. 156, sec. 6.
40 29 DL, ch. 72, sec. 4b, p. 205.
41 Messersmith, pp. 21-23.
42 8 DL, ch. 139, sec. 1.
43 12 DL, ch. 508, sec. 1.
44 27 DL, ch. 47.
45 Rev. Code 1935, ch. 43, par. 1218.
46 26 DL, ch. 262, sec. 7.
47 16 DL, ch. 133, secs. 3, 4, 5; 27 DL, ch. 201, sec. 7.
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48 23 DL, ch. 60, sec. 5.
49 Rev. Code 1915, ch. 23, par. 719; 34 DL, ch. 85; 42 DL, ch. 104.
50 26 DL, ch. 87.
51 23 DL, ch. 83.
52 Rev. Code 1852, ch. 41, sec. 1, par. 702.
53 21 DL, ch. 67, sec. 17.
54 13 DL, ch. 166, sec. 2.
55 21 DL, ch. 247, secs. 3, 4.
56 Rev. Code 1935, ch. 43, sec. 19, par 1165; 46 DL, ch. 225.
57 Ibid., par. 1166.
58 Messersmith, pg. 59.
59 40 DL, ch. 236.
60 28 DL, ch. 108, sec. 2, pg. 324.
61 29 DL, ch. 72, sec. 4b, pg. 205.
62 37 DL, ch. 113, sec. 1, pg. 400.
63 21 DL, ch. 23, sec. 1, pg. 39.
65 40 DL, ch. 134.
66 Rev. Code 1935, ch. 43, par. 1157.
67 35 DL, ch. 69, sec. 1.
68 17 DL, ch. 16, secs. 3, 4.
69 36 DL, ch. 112, secs. 1, 2, 3.
70 38 DL, ch. 81, sec. 1.
71 26 DL, ch. 28.
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72 40 DL, ch. 126, secs. 1, 2, 3.
73 Ibid., ch. 107, secs. 1, 2, 3.
74 37 DL, ch. 189, sec. 13.
75 Ibid, sec. 15.
76 42 DL, ch. 99, sec. 1.
77 Ibid., sec. 4.
78 Ibid., ch. 102, sec. 1.
79 Ibid., ch. 103, sec. 2.
80 Ibid., ch. 174, sec. 2.
81 43 DL, ch. 100, ch. 98.
82 Ibid., ch. 101.
83 Ibid., ch. 102.
84 Ibid., ch. 214.
85 Ibid., ch. 99.
86 Ibid., ch. 117.
87 44 DL, ch. 84.
88 Ibid., ch. 83.
89 45 DL, ch. 113.
90 47 DL, ch. 310.
91 Ibid., ch. 178.
92 Ibid., ch. 143.
93 Ibid., ch. 298.
94 48 DL, ch. 331.