RG# 7050

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The 1800s

RG 1325-003-207-0848: Railroad Ave and Division St, Delmar

In 1859, the Delaware Railroad extended its line to the southern boundary of Delaware and built a station on land donated to create a right-of-way for this purpose. Town lots were laid out near the station, and a house and store built. The town that formed was named by combining the first three letters of each state, DEL-MAR. Those who settled in the area did so without consideration of the state line, but this jurisdictional boundary resulted in two separate towns being incorporated, one in Maryland in 1888 and one in Delaware in 1899. However, the two Towns have often worked jointly to provide services to their citizens in order to overcome the effect of the state line which divides them. Delmar was incorporated in 1899 as the “Commissioners of the Town of Delmar.” Three Commissioners were appointed to plot the boundaries of the Town. The Act directed that within a year, three Commissioners were to be elected to govern the Town. They were to serve staggered, three-year terms, and one of the Commissioners was to be elected President, presiding over the regularly-scheduled four meetings a year. The Town’s officials included a Town Clerk, Alderman, Assessor, Tax Collector, Treasurer, and Constable. The Commissioners had the authority to regulate the streets [assisted by an allocation of $300 from Sussex County] and sidewalks of the Town and to direct the latter to be paved at the adjacent owner’s expense; upon a complaint by a citizen, to examine any chimney, stovepipe and fixture, or other matter dangerous to the Town and to compel its repair or removal; to prevent or remove nuisances; to prohibit the firing of guns or pistols, the making of bonfires or setting off of firecrackers or any dangerous sport; to prevent or suppress any noisy or turbulent assemblages of persons in the Town; to plant and protect ornamental trees; and to make and repair public pumps. The cap on taxes to be levied annually was $300 including the tax on real and personal property and the per capita tax of $1 per male citizen over 21. The Act allowed the Town’s citizens to pay their per capita tax by working on the streets for ten hours. Machinery in factories was exempt from taxation.1 No revisions were made to this Act before the Town was re-incorporated six years later. 


1900 – 1949

In 1905, Delmar was reincorporated. The Act mirrors the 1899 Incorporating Act but in this Act, the number of Commissioners was increased to five and the maximum annual tax levied was increased to $600. This Incorporating Act was not to be fully effective unless approved by the qualified voters of the Town.2  

In the same year that the Incorporating Act was being revised, a law was enacted which authorized Delmar to borrow up to $20,000 for the purpose of providing a supply of water and lights for the Town. The fees charged by the Water Works and Light Plant were to be used to pay the interest on the bonds issued, but if these were insufficient, then a special tax was to be imposed of not more than $1,200 a year. The Commissioners of Delmar were also authorized to levy an additional $1,200 in taxes for the purpose of establishing a sinking fund to redeem the bonds when they came due. Approval by referendum vote was required before the Commissioners could move forward with the provisions of this law.3 Only one amendment was made to the 1905 Incorporating Act prior to Delmar’s next re-incorporation. In 1909, a new section was added to the Act indicating that perhaps the 1905 law may not have been approved by referendum. The new provisions of the Incorporating Act authorized the Commissioners to establish a waterworks and water supply system and to levy a special tax of not more than $500 with which to fund the project as well as extend and improve it. This provision required referendum approval. The amendments also empowered the Town to extend its limits although the Town’s boundaries were not specified in the 1905 Act or in the amendment.4

The Town of Delmar was next re-incorporated in 1911 in the corporate name of the “Mayor and Council of the Town of Delmar.” The Act indicated that the Town’s original boundaries could be found on a plot recorded at the Sussex County Recorder of Deeds office and that these boundaries had been expanded through the addition of two parcels of contiguous land. The 1911 Act specified that the Town could annex land if two-thirds of the freeholders of the contiguous land agreed to this action. The Town was to be governed by a Mayor and four Councilmen, each of which was to serve a two-year term. There were now to be twelve Council meetings a year with the Mayor presiding. Town officials remained the same and included an Alderman, an Assessor, a Tax Collector, a Treasurer, and a Town Constable. In addition to the powers contained in earlier Acts of Incorporation, the Council had the authority to compel owners of vacant property to maintain it in good condition. They were also able to require that dog owners register their dogs as well as to levy a tax of $1 on each male dog and $5 on each female dog. Further they could grant a franchise to any individual or corporation to lay pipes under the surface or erect poles along the streets of the Town for the purpose of supplying the Town with water and light, to regulate the prices and uses of the water and light so supplied and to sell to sell water to persons adjacent to but outside of the Town of Delmar. They had the authority, if approved by referendum vote, to levy and collect a special tax of $500 for the lease or rental of fire plugs throughout the Town. The maximum general tax on real and personal property, including the per capita tax of $1 for each male citizen above the age of 21, was to be not more than $1,000 annually. In addition to this, the Council could levy a tax on the telegraph, telephone, and electric poles, as well as saloons, restaurants, barber shops, pool rooms, peddlers, teamsters, livery stables, amusement halls, and places of public entertainment. All newly established manufacturing industries were to be exempt from taxes for a period of ten years.5

In 1913, a law was passed which authorized the Town of Delmar to borrow $30,000 with which to establish a sewer system. The law also authorized the Council to levy a special tax of not more than $1,500 with which to pay the interest on this debt and an additional special tax of $1,000 with which to establish a sinking fund. The provisions of the law were not to go into effect until approved by referendum. The referendum vote was to be weighted; one vote could be cast for every $100 paid in taxes.6 Subsequent legislation shows that this referendum was defeated. In 1917, Delmar’s Incorporating Act of 1911 was amended by terminating the Town’s ability to levy a tax for the lease or rental of fire plugs; and changing the amount of the general tax levied to be forty cents for every $100 of assessed value.7

The next re-incorporation of the Town of Delmar took place in 1921. The original boundaries of the Town had been expanded in the 1911 Act and these were now further expanded and revised. The provisions for annexation contained in this Act called for two-thirds of the freeholders in the parcel of land to be annexed to agree to this action. There were few significant changes in the manner of governance of the Town. One of these was a provision that the Mayor could not vote at Council meetings unless there was a tie. Also, both males and females were now allowed to vote for the elected officials. Town officials remained the same as in 1911. The 1921 Act was updated to include the amendments made in 1917, but beyond this few changes were made.8

In 1921, a law authorized the Town of Delmar to borrow $58,000 with which to build, maintain and operate a sewer system and sewage disposal plant. This law authorized the piping to extend across state lines and required the agreement of Wicomico County, MD to approve this action and fund their portion of the sewer work.9 The 1921 law, which was subject to referendum, was not approved. In 1923, Delmar was authorized to levy a special tax of no more than $2,000 with which to pay for fire equipment; referendum approval was required.10 Two years later, in 1925, Delmar was authorized to borrow $46,000 in order to provide a surface drainage system for the Town which would include piping, curbing and guttering along the streets. The costs of the work were to be split evenly between the Town and property owners adjacent to the streets in proportion to the amount of street frontage owned. Repayment of the Town’s debt was to be by a special tax. Also in 1925, another law authorized the Town to borrow $47,000 for the construction of sewer system in Delmar, DE with pipes extending into Maryland; the terms of the law closely matched those contained in a 1921 law for the same purpose.11 As a joint sewer system for both the Maryland and Delaware portions of Delmar was completed in 1927, it appears that referendum approval of this law was achieved.

In 1927, Delmar was once again re-incorporated.  This Incorporating Act contained a full description of the Town’s boundaries. It also provided for annexation but indicated that three-fourths of the freeholders must concur for annexation to be approved. While the elected officials did not change, the position of the Town Clerk, an appointed Town official that had previously been eliminated, was reinstated. This Act enumerated specific corporate powers among which were: to purchase lands and goods for public purposes; to receive bequests of property for their use or in trust for charitable purposes; to acquire and maintain public buildings; to appropriate annually a sum of money to aid in the relief and care of the sick, infirm and deceased residents of the Town; to establish public parks and control their use; to lay out streets; to regulate and maintain streets, sidewalks, drains, and gutters; to construct and maintain sewers; to condemn private property for municipal purposes; to require building permits; to provide clean water; to provide lighting and regulate the price of same; to enforce sanitary regulations including the burial of the dead; to remove nuisances injurious to the public health, and to prevent the introduction of infectious diseases; to license and/or regulate auctioneers, show, exhibitions, amusements, gaming devises, and slot machines; to regulate dangerous substances; to register and tax dogs and to prevent the going at large of horses and dogs; and to provide an efficient fire and police force in order to protect persons and property, maintain the public peace and promote public morals. The Act specifically provided for appropriating up to $500 annually for the support and maintenance of the fire company. The amount of the general tax was increased to be not more than $4,000 annually.12

The 1927 Incorporating Act was revised in 1929 when a law was passed which empowered Delmar to grade, pave, gutter and curb streets and to place new sewer pipes in any street to be paved if two-thirds of the property owners abutting the street petitioned for this and agreed to pay two-thirds of the cost in proportion to the length of street front owned. Any property owners who did not pay would have a lien placed against their property.13 In 1937, Delmar was authorized to redeem and refund the bonds for the sewer system and for the repair of the streets which had been issued in 1925 in order to lower the interest rate.14

In 1945, Delmar was re-incorporated, and a Charter enacted. As in the 1927 Incorporating Act, the corporate boundaries were stated. The annexation process was different than in previous Acts, and now required referendum approval by all voters eligible to vote in the general election with votes weighted so one vote was to be cast for every dollar paid in taxes. The Town continued to be governed by a Mayor and four Council members. The other Town officials included a Tax Collector, a Secretary, a Treasurer, an Alderman, two Auditors, an Assessor, a Town Solicitor, a Board of Health, and a Police force; the position of Town Clerk had once again been eliminated. In addition, the Council could create a Town Zoning Commission and a Tree Commission. In addition to all of the powers generally vested in a municipality, this Charter specifically provided the Council with authorization to borrow money to be used to manufacture and/or supply or distribution of electricity, gas, light, heat, or power, for the furnishing of water or sewer, or for the construction repair or improvement of streets, paving sidewalks, curbing or gutters. The referendum to approve such actions was to be by weighted vote with one vote for each dollar paid in taxes. They were also empowered to float debt against current revenue not to exceed $5,000. This Charter specifically stated that taxes were to be a first lien on real estate and that the lien continues until the tax is collected. The cap on taxes including the tax on real estate and the per capita tax of $1 on each citizen was to be no more than $10,000 annually.15

It would be thirty-two years before the 1945 Charter was revised. During that time numerous amendments to the Charter were made. A series of laws enacted in 1949 contained the first of these amendments by changing the time of the elections and increasing the cap on taxation to $12,000 annually; clarifying when taxes were due; indicating the maximum amount that could be charged for connecting to the sewer; an indication that a referendum was required if an increase in the water or sewer rent was proposed.16


1950 – 1999

In 1953, the Town of Delmar increased the cap on taxation to $20,000 annually, and also increased the maximum sewer fee from $10 to $20.17 Two years later, a law increased the compensation for elected Town officials and election board members.18 In 1957, the maximum sewer fees were again increased to $25 per building, which was increased if there were multiple units in the building.19 A change in the amount of taxes levied on the Town was authorized in 1963; the cap was increased to  $30,000 annually.20 Another increase in compensation for the Mayor and Council was approved in 1967.21 A law passed in 1972 contained many changes to the Charter which included revising the process for annexation; revising the election procedures including the lowering of the voting age to 18; changing the length of term for Council members to four years; eliminating the Town officials of Secretary and Treasurer and adding a Clerk-Treasurer; revising the responsibilities of the Alderman; making provisions for Delmar to use the information from the assessment process carried out by Sussex County to determine its assessment; increasing the maximum taxation levied annually to $50,000; in most cases, eliminating weighted voting for referendums on borrowing money and issuing bonds; allowing for the Town to incur a debt of up to $50,000 without referendum; establishing a cap on bonded indebtedness that, in aggregate, is 20% of the value of real property; and eliminating the provisions in the Charter on floating debt.22 In two laws in 1974, the election process was again revised, and the cap on taxation was increased to $100,000 annually.23 A year later, additional revisions were made to the Charter when the amount that could be borrowed without a referendum was increased to $100,000, and the procedures governing registration for elections was revised.24 In 1976, the annexation procedures were modified so that there was a more simplified set of procedures to be followed, one to be used when all freeholders in the parcel to be annexed were in favor of annexation and another if five or more but not all freeholders were in favor.25

The most recent re-incorporation of the Town of Delmar took place in 1977. The territorial boundary of the Town was described in metes and bounds in the Charter and the annexation procedures which had been changed a year before was included along with some additional explanation of the process. Election procedures and qualifications for elected office are also outlined. In 1972, there had been a change made to the length of term served by Council members and this is reflected in the Charter which indicates that the Mayor’s term was to be two years and the Council members were four years. The Mayor was to preside over all Council meeting and was eligible to vote on all matters. In addition to its elected officials, there was to be a Town Manager, who was the Chief Administrative Officer, an Alderman and Assistant Alderman, Auditor, three-member Board of Assessment, Town Solicitor, Police force, and a four-member Board of Health. The delegated powers of the government contained in this Charter are expanded, and among those newly enumerated are: to prevent vice, drunkenness and immorality; to prohibit all gaming and fraudulent devices; to regulate or control the observance of the Sabbath; to establish pounds and to restrain, prohibit and impound any domestic or wild animal, beast, bird, or fowl running at large and to authorize the destruction of same; to regulate, license or require the removal of any businesses or buildings or conditions detrimental to the public health; to enforce the removal of ice, snow, or dirt from sidewalks and gutters; to grant franchises for the purpose of furnishing heat, light, power, gas, water, sewer, drainage, electric current, telephone, telegraph, television, railroad, bus, taxi, or other forms of transportation; to regulate the planting and care of ornamental trees; to zone or district the Town; and to acquire and maintain buildings for housing and equipping the offices of the Town. The Town’s revenue is provided through levying a general tax on real estate, a per capita tax on all residents over 18, a tax on all poles and similar constructions, licensing fees on businesses, and rates charged for utility use. The maximum amount to be raised through general taxation was not to exceed $500,000, and non-payment of real estate taxes as well as fees for utility use constituted a first lien on the property. The Town was authorized to borrow money in anticipation of revenue of up to $150,000, in aggregate. It also had the power to borrow money and issue bonds, after referendum approval, as long as the bonded indebtedness did not exceed, in aggregate, 25% of the value of the Town’s real estate.26

The first amendment to the 1977 Charter was enacted in 1983 when it was determined that the Alderman and Assistant Alderman need not be residents of the Town.27 In 1987, the date on which elections took place was changed.28 There were numerous changes made throughout the 1990s. In 1992, the Town was authorized to draw up supplemental assessment lists quarterly for any properties not included in the last assessment.29 A year later, the level of general taxation was increased to be capped at $1 Million; the voting procedures were revised to allow for absentee balloting; and the position of Deputy Mayor was added.30 In 1994, the Charter was updated with procedures governing the regulation of streets, but later that year this was once again eliminated from the Charter.31 A1995 amendment to the Charter authorized the Town Manager to sell the lands of a delinquent taxpayer to recoup these costs.32 In 1997, technical corrections were made on the Charter to make it gender neutral, and in another law, it was determined that all public expenditures for charges related to private land were to be considered liens on that property for ten years.33 In 1998, the issuing of general obligation bonds without referendum approval was authorized; the cap for these bonds, in aggregate, was to be $1 million.34


2000 – Current

A law in 2014 revised the circumstances under which the Mayor or Council members could be relieved of office.35

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

CITATIONS in Del. Laws

1 21 Del. Laws, c. 286 (1899) [pp. 555-61]

2 23 Del. Laws, c. 184 (1905) [pp. 339-48]

3 23 Del. Laws, c. 185 (1905) [pp. 348-52]

4 25 Del. Laws, c. 198 (1909) [pp. 394-96]

5 26 Del. Laws, c. 237 (1911) [pp. 592-605]

6 27 Del. Laws, c. 253 (1913) [pp. 747-55]

7 29 Del. Laws, c. 157 (1917) [p. 536]

8 32 Del. Laws, c. 150 (1921) [pp. 440-53]

9 32 Del. Laws, c. 151 and c. 152 (1921) [pp. 454-60 and pp. 461-62]

10 33 Del. Laws, c. 153 (1923) [pp. 462-63]

11 34 Del. Laws, c. 152 and c. 153 (1925) [pp. 380-88 and pp. 389-93]

12 35 Del. Laws, c. 100 (1927) [pp. 293-311]

13 36 Del. Laws, c. 156 (1929) [pp. 440-44]

14 41 Del. Laws, c. 139 and c. 140 (1937) [pp. 352-55 and pp. 356-59]

15 45 Del. Laws, c. 182 (1945) [pp. 682-722]

16 47 Del. Laws, c. 189, c. 197, c. 215, and c. 217 (1949) [p. 395, p. 411, p. 444, and pp. 458-60]

17 49 Del. Laws, c. 297 and c. 319 (1953) [p. 597 and p. 665]

18 50 Del. Laws, c. 409 (1955) [p. 877]

19 51 Del. Laws, c. 226 (1957) [p. 431]

20 54 Del. Laws, c. 220 (1963) [p. 727]

21 56 Del. Laws, c. 47 (1967) [p. 145]

22 58 Del. Laws, c. 481 (1972) [pp. 1499-1508]

23 59 Del. Laws, c. 288 (1974) [p. 953]

24 60 Del. Laws, c. 12, c. 74, and c. 123 (1975) [pp. 24-25, p. 137, and p. 480]

25 60 Del. Laws, c. 472 (1976) [pp. 1403-10]

26 61 Del. Laws, c. 137 (1977) [pp. 397-431]

27 64 Del. Laws, c. 3 (1983) [p. 8]

28 66 Del. Laws, c. 76 (1987) [p. 115]

29 68 Del. Laws, c. 209 (1992) [p. 777]

30 69 Del. Laws, c. 137 (1993) [p. 312]

31 69 Del. Laws, c. 202 and c. 337 (1994) [pp. 429-31 and p. 786]

32 70 Del. Laws, c. 193 (1995) [p. 498]

33 71 Del. Laws, c. 16 and c. 53 (1997) [p. 16 and p. 90]

34 71 Del. Laws, c. 281 (1998) [p. 726]

35 79 Del. Laws, c. 403 (2014) [http://delcode.delaware.gov/sessionlaws/ga147/chp403.shtml]

Delaware Laws from 1935 to present can be found online at: http://delcode.delaware.gov/sessionlaws/

Records at DPA

Town of Delmar records at the Delaware Public Archives include:

  • Minutes of the Town Council (1939-1987): 7050-000-001
  • Minutes of the Water Commission for DE and MD (1979-1982): 7050-000-003
  • Audit Reports (1979-2013): 7050-000-005
  • Tax Sale Files (1991-1998): 7050-000-006
  • Annual Budget Reports (1975-1996): 7050-000-007

jnl / April 5, 2019