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RG #7100

Once the dispute was settled which determined the boundary lines for Sussex County, the citizens of the newly-defined county would soon petition for the county seat to be moved to a more central location. In January 1791, An ACT for removing the Seat of Justice from Lewes to a more central part of Sussex County, and for other purposes was passed. It appointed five commissioners who were tasked with purchasing up to 100 acres of land at a place called “James Pettijohn’s Old Field.” They were to reserve an acre of ground for the courthouse and lay out the rest of the land in lots to be sold. A supplement to this Act in October of the same year indicated that the first Act had been fulfilled.1 The new county seat was called Georgetown in honor of George Mitchell who was active in the movement to move the county seat to a more central location.

 

1850 – 1899

Sixty years later, in 1851, stipulations included in A Further Supplement to An ACT for removing the Seat of Justice from Lewes to a more central part of Sussex County, and for other purposes appointed five Commissioners to serve until a new Board of Commissioners was elected by the Town’s male citizens over the age of 21. The Commissioners were to elect a member to serve as President and who would also have the power and title of Alderman. The duties of the Board of Commissioners was to suppress riotous or noisy assemblages; prevent the running at large of horses, swine and cattle; prevent the exhibition or stoning of horses; prevent bonfires and exhibitions of fireworks; and do all things necessary for the safe and peaceable government of Georgetown. The Board could also levy taxes which could not exceed 0.25% of the assessed value of real estate as established by the county Assessor. Although this was not specifically called an Incorporating Act, it did establish the government.2

In 1859, a law authorized the Board of Commissioners to enclose Georgetown’s public square with a circular or octagonal fence. The streets that had previously bisected the square were to be vacated, and a road was to circle the public square. In the same law, the Board of Commissioners were authorized to pave sidewalks, improve streets, and plant street trees. They were also authorized to pass ordinances to ensure the good government of the Town. The amount of taxes that could be assessed annually was increased to $250.3 In 1863, the limits of the Town of Georgetown were established as ½ mile in all directions from the center of the public square giving the Town its unusual circular boundary.4

 In 1869 Georgetown was formally incorporated as the “Commissioners of Georgetown.” This act references the 1851, 1859, and 1863 acts and repeals them, thereby indicating that these were considered a part of the legislative actions establishing Georgetown. The corporate boundaries were formalized as those which had been established six years previously. The Act called for the election of five Commissioners, an Alderman, an Assessor and a Treasurer who were all required to be freeholders within the Town. Those who had the right to vote in the election were white males of at least 21 years of age who were taxable residents of the Town. Once elected, the Commissioners were to elect one of their members to serve as its President and one to serve as Secretary. They were also to appoint a Town Bailiff. The Commissioners were to oversee the laying out of and vacating of streets and also their maintenance with which they were assisted by a $150 allocation annually from the Levy Court of Sussex County. They could also require that residents lay curbs and sidewalks along the streets adjoining their property. The 1869 Incorporating Act also authorized the Commissioners to make regulations and ordinances for the government of the Town and to fine those who did not comply. The Assessor was authorized to carry out an assessment of all real estate except for any vacant lot of more than one acre, and also of all white male citizens above the age of 21. The Commissioners were to ascertain the amount of money which would be required to carry out the purposes of the Incorporating Act, and tax Georgetown’s citizens in proportion to the amount they were assessed.5

Amendments made to the 1869 Incorporating Act included increasing the amount of money which the Levy Court of Sussex County provided for road maintenance, once in 1881, to $300,6 and again in 1889, to $450.7 In 1891, Georgetown’s corporate limits were expanded to ¾ mile in all directions from the center of the public square retaining the Town’s circular boundary.8

In 1893, Georgetown was re-incorporated. The Town’s corporate boundary remained as was set by law in 1891. The election procedures remained the same as in the 1869 Incorporating Act, and those Town officials to be elected also remained the same. With minor changes, many sections of this Incorporating Act mirrored that of 1869. However, whereas the previous Incorporating Act had not specified a regular schedule of meetings, this Act indicated that the Commissioners were to meet monthly. They were also able to appoint Constables to assist in keeping the peace. In this Act, the maximum amount of taxation to be levied was not to exceed $1,500 annually. Exempted from taxation were vacant land exceeding one acre, and, for a ten year period, any land used for manufacturing if the business annually gross over $10,000. The latter exemption was also to be applied to school taxes for the same period of time.9

 

1900 – 1949

In 1901, the first amendments were made to 1893 Incorporating Act. The law reduced the corporate limits back to ½ mile in all directions from the center of the public square; vested the governance of the Town in a Town Council rather than a Board of Commissioners, and increased the annual allocation of the Levy Court of Sussex County to $750. In a separate piece of legislation that year, Georgetown was authorized to borrow $25,000 for the purpose of supplying lighting and providing water for the Town’s citizens. The interest owed on the bonds issued to secure the debt was to be repaid by a special tax to be levied, but this tax could not exceed $1,500 annually. An additional amount of tax was to be collected to support the operation of the water works and light plant. A Board of Light and Water Commission was to be established and the Commission was to receive operating costs from the Town towards street illumination and protection from fire.10 In 1905, along with several other minor changes to the 1893 Incorporating Act, the maximum amount of taxes levied annually was increased to $2,500.11 Also in 1905, the 1893 Incorporating Act was re-published after being updated with the amendments which had taken place in the eight years since it first enacted.12 In 1905, another amendment was approved. This provided for the election of a Tax Collector and two Auditors, defining their qualifications and duties as well as clarifying those of the Treasurer.13 In the same year, the Incorporating Act was updated again so as to include these changes.14

In 1911, the Town of Georgetown was once again re-incorporated. This Act stated that the 1893 Incorporating Act and its various amendments was repealed and replaced with this new Incorporating Act. However, the new Act had few changes from what had been published in 1905. New provisions were added on vacating streets and all amendments were incorporated, but otherwise, much of the Act remained unchanged.15

Thirty years would pass before the Town would again be re-incorporated and during this time there would be numerous amendments to the 1911 Act. In 1913, several laws were passed. The first of these increased to $3,500 the amount of the maximum annual tax levied. A second law authorized the Town to borrow $35,000 with which to acquire and operate the Georgetown Water Company. A sinking fund was to be established with which to accumulate funds to pay off the debt. The Town also borrowed $5,000 for improving the streets; this debt was to be re-paid within five years. Another piece of legislation clarified that ditch companies must tax the Town not the individual residents.16 In 1915, a law stated that telephone and telegraph poles were to be taxed, and also that Georgetown could sue property owners to recover the cost of paving sidewalks.17 A 1917 law authorized Georgetown to borrow $15,000 for street improvements without requiring referendum apporval.18 There appears to have been concern with the legality of this law because in 1919, a new law also authorized the Town to borrow $15,000 for street improvements but this law did require referendum approval.19 This referendum does not appear to have been approved as a similar law with an increased amount of funding was passed in 1920.20 In 1921, a law amended the 1911 Incorporating Act increasing the authority of the Town Council. They could now establish fire limits and forbid use of inflammable material in buildings as well as the power to require building permits.21 In 1925, the Town Council was authorized to extend the corporate limits up to 300 yards in any direction of this action was approved by referendum, and also was authorized to tax dog owners by imposing a license fee for each dog.22 Two years later, the amount of tax to be levied on the Town was increased to no more than $4,500 annually. The Town was also authorized to give $1,000 annually over a four-year time frame to the Georgetown Fire Company for the maintenance of property and equipment. Another amendment gave the Town Council power to regulate pool rooms and pool tables.23 A further increase in the amount of the maximum annual tax, to $6,500, was approved in 1929.24 In 1931, Georgetown was authorized to borrow $150,000 to build and operate a sewer system and sewage disposal works; residents were to be charged fees associated with sewer usage in order to repay the debt.25 In 1933, Georgetown received funds from the State of Delaware to repay the costs of constructing N. Bedford Street, a road that was now part of the state highway system.26 In 1935, the election process was amended including opening voting to white women.27

The next re-incorporation of the Town of Georgetown was in 1941. This Act differed in format from the earlier Incorporating Acts and was called a Charter. The municipal corporation was called “Town Council of Georgetown.” The corporate limits were indicated to be the same as in prior Incorporating Acts, a ½ mile circle centered on the Public Square; however, the Charter also indicated that the boundaries could be extended and provided a specific boundary which constituted the outside boundaries of any possible annexation to the Town. Procedures for extending the boundary, should such annexation be proposed, were specified and a referendum approving the annexation was required. The structure of the Town government changed with this Charter. Governmental powers were vested in a Mayor and four member Town Council, each serving two-year terms. All were required to be resident freeholders and non-delinquent taxpayers.  Every non-delinquent Georgetown taxpayer over 21 was eligible to vote in the election. The Mayor was the Town’s executive, presided over the Council and had the right to vote at Council meetings. Appointed Town officials included the Tax Collector, Secretary, Alderman, two Auditors, Board of Health, Acting Alderman, Town Solicitor, Assessor, and Police Force. The powers of the Council are noted as those which are requisite or appropriate for the government of the Town, its peace and order, its sanitation and beauty as well as the health, safety, convenience, comfort and well-being of its population. There were specific provisions in the related to streets, paving, curbing and guttering; nuisances; health; fire; zoning; building inspection permits; franchises; licenses; fees; and sewer-sewage disposal. The Town could borrow money with the floating debt limited to a maximum aggregate of $5,000, and bonded indebtedness limited to 10% of the value of real property. The maximum amount that could be levied in taxes annually was to be no more than $20,000. The tax exemptions included in prior Incorporating Acts were retained.28

The first amendment to the 1941 Charter was passed in 1947. At that time, the maximum amount of taxes which could be levied annually was increased to $30,000.29

 

1950 – 1999

The Charter was not amended again for over twenty years. In 1969, the cap on both the floating debt and bonded indebtedness was increased, the former to a maximum aggregate of $50,000, and the latter to 25% of the value real property.30 In 1976, the allowed level of the floating debt was again increased, to $100,000.31 In laws passed in 1979 and 1980, there were amendments to the Charter which changed the process for selling municipal bonds.32 In 1982, the Town’s elections procedures were revised.33

The next re-incorporation of Georgetown took place in 1986. The new Charter was in the name “Town of Georgetown.” In it, the corporate boundaries of the Town were still noted as being ½ mile in every direction from the center of the Public Square. This Charter did not include a specified boundary beyond which the Town could be extended, and included a process for annexation of territory. In this Charter, the government of the Town and all powers are vested in the Town Council only. The Town is divided into four wards and each Council member was to be nominated from the ward in which they resided, however, they were to be elected at large. A Mayor, elected at large, served as President of the Town Council, presided over Council meetings, and had voting rights on all matters before the Council. The Mayor, with the concurrence of the Council was able to appoint a Town Manager who was the Chief Administrative Officer of the Town. Other Town officials, who remained the same as in the 1941 Charter, were similarly appointed. The forty-three powers vested in the Town Council were enumerated. The Charter specifically addresses the assessment and collection of taxes, streets, curbing and paving, collection of charges due the Town (water and sewer charges, license fees, etc.), and the power to borrow money. This Charter specified that the maximum amount of money which could be levied annually was to be no more than $500,000. It also set $100,000 as the maximum aggregate amount of floating debt and 25% of the value of real estate as the maximum for bonded indebtedness.34

The 1986 Charter was first amended in 1988 when Georgetown was authorized to tax residents for real estate transfers, and the election date was moved from June to May.35 The following year, the procedures for annexation and election were revised, and the maximum bonded indebtedness was increased to 35% of the value of real property.36 The maximum bonded indebtedness was again increased in 1991 to 40% of property value.37 Amendments to the Charter in 1992 allowed the Tax Assessor to perform an assessment on a semi-annual or quarterly basis, allowed the Town to vacate streets, and increased the maximum floating debt to $300,000.38 An amendment in 1993 clarified issues related to bonded indebtedness.39 A 1994 amendment allowed the Town Manager to sell the land of a delinquent taxpayer.40 In 1996, the maximum annual tax was increased to $2 million,41 and in 1998, the bonded indebtedness was increased to 50% of the assessed value of real estate.42

 

2000 – Current

There was a further change to the cap on bonded indebtedness in 2005 when it was increased to 75% of the value of real estate. In addition, the floating debt limit was increased to $1 million. The organization and powers of the Police were also amended at this time.43 In 2006, Georgetown was authorized to levy taxes within Special Development Districts.44 The final amendment to the 1986 Charter was made in 2011 when the bonded indebted limit was increased to $5 million.45

The most recent re-incorporation of Georgetown was in 2013. The structure of the new Charter was very different from the prior Charter, but the structure of the government did not change appreciably. The Council remains at four members, one from each of the Town’s four wards. The Mayor is a voting member of the Council. A Vice- Mayor and a Secretary are elected yearly from among the members of the Council. The Town Manager is the chief administrative officer. The Charter also recognized as Town officials, an Alderman and Vice-Alderman, a Town Solicitor, and the Police Force. Election procedures are governed by state law for municipal elections and take place in May. The Town’s fiscal year also begins in May. In addition to the various powers vested by the people of Georgetown in the Town Council, the Charter enumerates forty-three specific powers. The amount of money to be raised by taxes may not exceed 10% of the total assessed value of the real estate. The Council must limit its bonded indebtedness to 75% of the value of real estate and the floating debt is limited to $1 million.46

Updates to the Town’s election process were contained in a 2017 amendment to the 2013 Charter.47

For the fully amended text of the current Charter, see http://www.charters.delaware.gov/georgetown.shtml

 


 

View selected photographs of Georgetown

 


CITATIONS in Del. Laws

1 2 Del. Laws, c. 222 and c. 237 (1791) [pp. 1002-05 and pp. 1022-23]

2 10 Del. Laws, c. 571 (1861) [pp. 569-71]

3 11 Del. Laws, c. 651 (1859) [pp.742-43]

4 12 Del. Laws, c. 304 (1863) [p. 330]

5 13 Del. Laws, c. 473 (1869) [pp. 466-73]

6 16 Del. Laws, c. 492 (1881) [p. 653]

7 18 Del. Laws, c. 653 (1889) [p. 870]

8 19 Del. Laws, c. 240 (1891) [pp. 476-77]

9 19 Del. Laws, c. 765 (1893) [pp. 1092-1108]

10 22 Del. Laws, c. 189, c. 191, and c. 192 (1901) [pp. 424-27, pp. 429-33, and pp. 434-35]

11 23 Del. Laws, c. 188 (1905) [pp. 367-68]

12 23 Del. Laws, c. 189 (1905) [pp. 369-86]

13 25 Del. Laws, c. 201 (1909) [pp. 399-404]

14 25 Del. Laws, c. 202 (1909) [pp. 405-23]

15 26 Del. Laws, c. 238 (1911) [pp. 606-30]

16 27 Del. Laws, c. 243, c. 244, c. 245, and c. 246 (1913) [p. 713, pp. 714-19, pp. 720-22, and p. 723]

17 28 Del. Laws, c. 148 and c. 148 (1915) [p. 449]

18 29 Del. Laws, c. 161 (1917) [pp. 542-43]

19 30 Del. Laws, c. 147 (1919) [pp. 332-33]

20 31 Del. Laws, c. 38 (1920) [pp. 94-95]

21 32 Del. Laws, c. 138 (1921) [p. 409]

22 34 Del. Laws, c. 141 and c. 142 (1925) [p. 357 and p. 358]

23 35 Del. Laws, c. 106 and c. 107 (1927) [pp. 323-24 and p. 325]

24 36 Del. Laws, c. 161 (1929) [p. 483]

25 27 Del. Laws, c. 156 (1931) [pp. 536-42]

26 38 Del. Laws, c. 101 (1933) [pp. 432-33]

27 40 Del. Laws, c. 164 (1935) [pp. 596-97]

28 43 Del. Laws, c. 166 (1941) [pp. 674-715]

29 45 Del. Laws, c. 155 (1947) [p. 409]

30 57 Del. Laws, c. 190 (1969) [p. 648]

31 60 Del. Laws, c. 417 (1976) [pp. 1202-03]

32 62 Del. Laws, c. 121 and c. 185 (1979-1980) [p. 280 and p. 448]

33 63 Del. Laws, c. 301 (1982) [pp. 590-91]

34 65 Del. Laws, c. 276 (1986) [pp. 512-34]

35 66 Del. Laws, c. 292 and c. 325 (1988) [pp. 549-50 and p. 700]

36 67 Del. Laws, c. 66, c. 73, and c. 74 (1989) [p. 216, p. 220, and p. 221]

37 68 Del. Laws, c. 11 (1991) [p. 45]

38 68 Del. Laws, c. 411 (1992) [p. 1290]

39 69 Del. Laws, c. 5 (1993) [p. 3]

40 69 Del. Laws, c. 267 (1994) [p. 530]

41 70 Del. Laws, c. 442 (1996) [p. 1069]

42 71 Del. Laws, c. 277 (1998) [p. 723]

43 75 Del. Laws, c. 58 (2005) [pp. 52-53]

44 75 Del. Laws, c. 262 (2006) [pp. 345-46]

45 78 Del. Laws, c. 145 (2011) [http://delcode.delaware.gov/sessionlaws/ga146/chp145.shtml]

46 79 Del. Laws, c. 14 (2013) [http://delcode.delaware.gov/sessionlaws/ga147/chp014.shtml]

47 81 Del. Laws, c. 138 (2017) [http://delcode.delaware.gov/sessionlaws/ga149/chp138.shtml]


Records at DPA


Town of Georgetown records at the Delaware Public Archives include:

  • Alderman’s Docket (1869-1908): 7100-000-000
  • Minutes of the Board of Health (1916-1919): 7100-000-001
  • Minutes of Public Hearings (1978-1988): 7100-000-002
  • Minutes of the Planning and Zoning Commission (1974-1980): 7100-000-003
  • Minutes of the Commissioners/Town Council (1869-1902, 1906-1987): 7100-000-004
  • Historic Georgetown Association Annual Report (1995): 7100-000-005
  • Reports on Sewers, Storm Water Drainage and Streets (1953-1955): 7100-000-006

jnl / July 27, 2018


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