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The office of comptroller for New Castle County was created in 1891 by an act of the General Assembly, whereby the Governor appointed a competent freeholder in the county to that position.1
The comptroller was required to inspect, examine, and audit all books and accounts of the following county offices: receiver of taxes and county treasurer, delinquent tax department, clerk of the peace, sheriff, coroner, recorder of deeds, prothonotary, register of wills, register in chancery, clerk of the orphan’s court, justices of the peace, and constables. He was also to check the accounts of the board of trustees of the New Castle County Workhouse, and verify the witness and juror fees expended by the clerk of the peace and prothonotary. All of his findings were then gathered into a written report to be submitted to the Levy Court.2 The report was then published in pamphlet form at Levy Court expense.3
In addition to his auditing duties, it was necessary for the comptroller to countersign all warrants drawn by order of the Levy Court Commissioners for the payment of money, and to endorse all appropriations, bills, payments, or claims. If the comptroller refused to sign any warrant, the Levy Court could override his opposition and force him to sign, but having voiced his objection, the Comptroller was thereafter exonerated from any responsibility.4 However, the Comptroller was permitted to sign any warrant against an appropriation insufficient to cover the warrant, and the Levy Court by law could not overrule him.5
Each December, the Associate Judge of the Superior Court was to appoint three freeholders (later, two)6 to inspect the books of the Comptroller, Receiver of Taxes, and the County Treasurer for any discrepancies.7
In 1911, the General Assembly established the position of Comptroller for Kent and Sussex Counties. Their duties were identical to those of the New Castle Comptroller, and additionally were responsible for auditing the accounts of all public institutions that utilized any amount of county funds. The Kent and Sussex comptrollers were also subject to a yearly audit of their own books by a committee of three county residents8 (later, two).9
New Castle County was permitted a Deputy Comptroller in 1907 but Kent County had no Deputy Comptroller until 1970,10 and wasn’t permitted to employ multiple deputies (when necessary) until 1986.11
By 1933, the General Assembly required all Levy Courts to employ a certified public accountant to annually audit the Comptroller’s books. Due to the appointive nature of the Comptroller’s position, this may have been instituted as a safeguard against incompetency or political conniving.12
County government reorganizations in 1965 (New Castle)13 and 1970 (Sussex)14 effectively eliminated the comptroller position. In New Castle County, a Department of Finance, a County Auditor, and a County Council, with County Executive as chief administrator, were created. The Comptroller’s authorization duties were assumed by the County Executive; his records examination duties were assumed by the County Auditor. The auditor was required to be a certified public accountant, so the new organization eliminated an unnecessary step in the audit process.
Sussex County’s changes in 1970 were essentially the same with some minor differences. A County Council and County Administrator were established, and also a Department of Finance, which handles any county expenditures. Auditing services are contracted for with a certified public accountant, also effectively eliminating the need for a comptroller.
At present, Kent County still has a Comptroller in its governmental organization, whose duties and responsibilities continue intact.
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1 19 D.L., ch. 26.
3 21 D.L., ch. 194.
4 19 D.L., ch. 26.
5 20 D.L., ch. 386.
6 21 D.L., ch. 193.
7 19 D.L., ch. 26.
8 26 D.L., ch. 83, 84.
9 29 D.L., ch. 78.
10 24 D.L., ch. 80; 57 D.L., ch. 557.
11 65 D.L., ch. 360.
12 38 D.L., ch. 71.
13 33 D.L., ch. 85.
14 57 D.L., ch. 762.
JRF; February 7, 1989