RG# 7160


RG 9015-028-000: Main St, Millsboro

Late 1700s – 1849

Around 1792 the headwaters of Indian River were dammed at a place called Rock Hole to establish a grist mill and a sawmill on the northeast side of the river. Originally called Rock Hole Mills, the name was changed in 1809 to Millsborough.1 Additional mills were soon established in the area and another village was formed on the southwest side of Indian River called Washington. The area became a trading center, particularly for lumber and agriculture. In 1837, the villages merged and adopted the name Millsboro. Growth continued throughout the nineteenth century spurred particularly when a rail line reached the Town just after the Civil War.


1850 – 1899

Millsboro was incorporated in 1893 as “The Commissioners of the Town of Millsboro.” Five Commissioners were named and instructed to work with a surveyor to survey the Town and to have the plot recorded at the Sussex County Recorder of Deeds office. Elections for new Commissioners were to be held within a year. Each elector was allowed one vote for every dollar or partial dollar paid by them or their wives in Town taxes. The elected Commissioners were to serve two-year terms, electing a Commissioner to serve as President, and meeting four times yearly. They were to appoint a Town Clerk, Alderman, Constable, Assessor, Tax Collector and Treasurer. The duties of the Commissioners and other Town officials were to improve the streets (with assistance from Sussex County annually of $300), pave and improve the sidewalks (with the cost of paving being the responsibility of adjoining property owners); planting and protecting ornamental trees; repairing and making public pumps; keeping the peace; suppressing disorderly and riotous assemblages; regulating the storage of explosives; and preventing gatherings which would interfere with the free use of the streets. Property owners were to be assessed a tax on their real and personal property which was not to exceed $500 annually. Vacant land of over one acre within the Town’s boundary was exempt from taxation; a factory could only be taxed on its land and buildings, not its machinery. Millsboro also taxed male citizens of age 21 and over, a per capita tax of at least 50 cents.2


1900 – 1949

The 1893 Incorporating Act was first amended in 1907. New Commissioners were appointed to survey the Town and record the plot. The election procedures were also amended so that each elector had only one vote. The term of office for the Commissioners was increased from two years to three. A change was also made in the per capita tax which set an upper limit of $1. In addition, the law allowed dog owners to be taxed $1 for male dogs and $2 for female dogs.3

When Millsboro was re-incorporated in 1909, a description of the boundary as surveyed in 1908 was included. The boundary enclosed an area that included land on both sides of the river. The Act also allowed for annexation of contiguous territory by vote of two-thirds of the Commissioners after notice to the public. The five elected Commissioners were to be freeholders in the Town and residents for at least two years; they were to serve three-year, staggered terms. From among themselves, the Commissioners were to choose a President, Treasurer, and Secretary, and each year, were to appoint an Alderman, Town Constable, Assessor, Overseer of the Roads, and Board of Health. Meetings of the Commissioners were to be held monthly. The 1909 Incorporating Act laid out a much expanded list of powers. In addition to those contained in the 1893 Incorporating Act, it vested in the Commissioners the right to have and possess property and to sell the same; to receive gifts, bequests and donations and to dispose of same; to acquire and maintain buildings for municipal purposes; to lay out and maintain public parks; to construct sewers; to supply water; to provide lighting for streets; to establish a line in the river beyond which no pier would be constructed; to grant franchises to those providing utilities; to enforce sanitary regulations  and abate nuisances to public health; to regulate the erection of buildings and require building permits; to grant licenses to theatrical companies and circuses; and to make and enforce fire and police regulations. This Incorporating Act also provided the Commissioners with the right to borrow for municipal purposes, an amount not to exceed 3% of the assessed value of the Town’s real estate; such borrowing required referendum approval, and repayment was by special tax in an amount sufficient to pay the yearly interest and fund an account to redeem the bonds when they came due. No specific amount was set as the yearly maximum taxation on the Town for general obligations but non-payment of taxes was deemed a lien against the real property and could result in the sale of the delinquent taxpayer’s assets. Referendum approval was also required before initiating any sewer projects, but once water or sewers were installed, the Commissioners could require that the adjacent property owners connect to these systems. The Act called for the Levy Court of Sussex County to continue to allocate $300 annually towards the maintenance of streets.4

The Town of Millsboro would not be re-incorporated for another 67 years, but the 1909 Act would be amended many times during that period. The first time was in 1913 when the Town extended its powers to include the ability to borrow up to $1,000 for immediate needs without referendum approval, and Sussex County increased its annual allocation for roads to $500.5 Although the law provides no reason, in 1920,  land in Indian River Hundred (on the NE side of the river) was removed from the Town’s boundaries.6 A year later, Millsboro was authorized to borrow up to  $25,000 to erect a water works, providing water for domestic purposes and to fight fires, as well as to provide electric lighting for the Town’s streets.7  In 1927, Millsboro would be granted the right to sell its electric light plant and to enter into a contract with a company to provide or franchise the right to provide electric lighting to the Town.8 In 1929, the fine which could be imposed by the Alderman was increased as were the fines for violating Town ordinances.9 In 1935, the 1909 Incorporating Act was amended to change the percentage of the rebate when property owners made early and the penalty for late payment of their taxes.10 Because the interest rate on the bonds was high, in 1937, the Town was authorized to borrow up to $25,000 with which to redeem and re-issue $17,000 in bonds previously issued as well as to provide additional money to improve the Town.11 In 1945, Millsboro would be authorized to borrow up to $100,000 to build a sewer system.12 However, within two years, the Town would determine that this amount was insufficient for that purpose and up to an additional $200,000 was authorized. In another law in 1947, the boundary of the Town was to be extended after referendum approval.13 In 1949, one law provided further guidance on the annexation process and another authorized the Town to use the funds raised through the sale of bonds in 1947 to repair and extend the water system.14


1950 – 1999

A law in 1955 added to the powers of the Town the ability to establish a pensions for police and municipal employees.15 In 1959, the 1909 Incorporating Act was amended to replace the description of the Town’s boundaries so that it would include the land that had been annexed after referendum approval;16 this boundary differed from that proposed in 1947. In 1953, four laws were passed which amended the 1909 Incorporating Act. The first changed the month in which municipal elections were held to June. Another law made significant changes: increasing the number of Commissioners from five to seven; providing for the President, Treasurer and Secretary to be chosen from members of the Board of Commissioners and the Alderman, Tax Collector and Board of Assessment to be appointed by them; and creating three representative districts with two Commissioners from each district and one at large. The third law that year revised the duties of the Alderman; eliminated the position of Town Constable; and created a Chief of Police and a Police Department. Also, it was determined that the amount of funds authorized for the sewer system was insufficient and so the authorizations was increased to a maximum of $600,000.17 The final amendments to the 1907 Incorporating Act were made in 1965. In that year there were three laws. One established the process for annexation of land into the Town. A second established that the Town could borrow up to $50,000 without referendum approval. A third law indicated that of the $600,000 authorized for constructing a sewer system, $375,000 in bonds had been issued. The sewer system had been constructed at a cost less than this so the bill authorized the remaining money that was borrowed to be placed in the Town’s general fund.18

In 1976, Millsboro was re-incorporated as “The Town of Millsboro,” and a Charter was established to govern the Town. The boundaries in the Charter reflect the same metes and bonds that were approved in 1959, and the Charter includes the process for annexation that was approved in 1965. A change in the election process allows electors to be either male or female as long as they are 18 or older. In addition, there are other changes to make the process more current with generally accepted practices. This Charter reflects changes in the structure of government that were approved in 1963 in terms of the revised number of elected officials and their assignment into three representative districts. The legislative body is now called a Town Council. The Council is to be headed by a President who also carries the title of Mayor, and there is a Vice-President, a Secretary and if desired, an Assistant Secretary who may be chosen from the Council members. Appointees include a Town Manager, an Alderman and Assistant Alderman, a Town Solicitor, a Board of Assessment, a four-member Board of Health, and a Police Chief. Most of the enumerated powers in the Charter are carried over from previous Incorporating Acts. The Charter set the maximum amount of taxation for the Town at $500,000; this had not been specified in the 1909 Act. The money which could be borrowed without a referendum was increased to $100,000. The amount authorized after referendum approval was limited to, in aggregate, 25% of the assessed value of all taxable real estate in the Town.19

Since 1976, Millsboro has amended their Charter numerous times but never replaced it. The first amendment, in 1980, revised the qualifications to serve as Council members by setting the minimum age at 18; eliminated the Town Manager position and re-instituted a Town Clerk position; as well as re-instituted the Treasurer position, stating that the position would be a Council member.20 In 1986, the Town’s allowable short term indebtedness was increased to a maximum of $250,000.21 In 1988, the benefit of abating tax liability for early payment was eliminated.22 In 1991, revisions were made to the process of selling municipal bonds.23 In 1992, an amendment created new regulations for carrying out special assessments; the Town was given the power to tax real estate transfers, and the amount of taxes allowed to be levied was increased to $750,000 annually.24 A change to the Charter made in 1993 allowed Millsboro companies which were required to pay to extend water and sewer lines to take a 20% exemption on their taxes.25 In 1994, the Town’s Charter was revised to include the power to provide for a public library, and the hours of the municipal elections were extended.26 As part of its enactment in 1992, the Town made provision for approval by referendum of the power to tax real estate transfers; this requirement was revoked in 1995.27 A revision was made to the Charter in 1996 which revoked a change made in 1980 when the Town Manager position had been eliminated; this position was now re-instituted. In the same law, absentee voting was approved; the Mayor was afforded certain powers during a sudden emergency; the Tax Collector was given the same rights to collect taxes as was afforded the Sussex County Receiver of Taxes, and the Town was given the power to establish and fund an ambulance service.28 Changes to the Charter in 1997 required that the Town’s Alderman be a practicing attorney; made the appointment of a Board of Health optional, and authorized the Town Manager to direct the Town’s Police Department as well as various other matters.29 Two laws were passed in 1998 which amended the Town’s Charter. The first stated that contributions made to a pension and/or welfare plan could not exceed 15% of the total payroll of the Town. The second gave the Town the power to issue revenue bonds to for-profit or non-profit entities. These bonds, in which revenue from the project would repay the bonds, were not to be considered as a debt on Millsboro.30 In 1999, regulations regarding the Board of Health were clarified to state that, if appointed, the Board of Health must have at least one practicing physician. The penalties for non-payment of taxes were revised in another law that same year.31


2000 – Current

Changes were made to the Charter in 2002 which eliminated the Assistant Secretary position; changed the procedures on borrowing funds by bonded indebtedness; and increased the maximum short term indebtedness to $500,000.32 In 2004, the Town revised the Charter to ensure that in cases where the Town prevailed in a legal suit, they could be able to collect court costs. The same year, in another law, the procedures for annexing territory were revised.33A number of laws were passed in 2005 which altered the Town’s Charter. First, Millsboro was allowed to impose impact fees on new development or construction; second, the Town could borrow funds for up to ten years without referendum approval as long as the amount did not exceed 10% of the Town’s assessed value; and third, Millsboro could create Tax Increment Financing and Special Development Districts.34 In 2006, the Charter was amended so that a supplemental assessment list would be prepared quarterly.35 In 2007, the Charter was amended so that maximum allowable taxes to be levied annually was no longer specified.36 

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

CITATIONS in Del. Laws

1 4 Del. Laws, c. 92 (1809) [pp. 269-70]

2 19 Del. Laws, c. 750 (1893) [pp. 1059-66]

3 24 Del. Laws, c. 219 (1907) [pp. 591-93]

4 25 Del. Laws, c. 203 (1909) [pp. 424-46]

5 27 Del. Laws, c. 257 (1913) [p. 766]

6 31 Del. Laws, c. 41 (1920) [p. 99]

7 32 Del. Laws, c. 139 (1921) [pp. 410-17]

8 35 Del. Laws, c. 116 (1927) [pp. 351-52]

9 36 Del. Laws, c. 177 (1929) [pp. 543-47]

10 40 Del. Laws, c. 171 (1935) [pp. 648-49]

11 41 Del. Laws, c. 155 (1937) [pp. 453-55]

12 45 Del. Laws, c. 186 (1945) [pp. 735-39]

13 46 Del. Laws, c. 215 and c. 216 (1947) [pp. 579-80 and pp. 581-82]

14 47 Del. Laws, c. 112 and c. 113 (1949) [p. 177 and pp. 178-79]

15 50 Del. Laws, c. 540 (1955) [p. 1260]

16 52 Del. Laws, c. 48 (1959) pp. 115-17]

17 54 Del. Laws, c. 8, c. 26, c. 27, and c. 184 (1963) [p. 15, pp. 48-52, pp. 53-58, and pp. 574-77]

18 55 Del. Laws, c. 2, c. 79, and c. 219 (1965) [pp. 5-9, p. 164, and pp. 619-20]

19 60 Del. Laws, c. 457 (1976) [pp. 1290-1353]

20 62 Del. Laws, c. 358 (1980) [pp. 829-31]

21 65 Del. Laws, c. 412 (1986) [p. 825]

22 66 Del. Laws, c. 226 and c. 257 (1988) [p. 466 and p. 491]

23 68 Del. Laws, c. 10 (1991) [p. 45]

24 68 Del. Laws, c. 212 and c. 243 (1992) [pp. 779-80 and pp. 812-13]

25 69 Del. Laws, c. 51 (1993) [p. 45]

26 69 Del. Laws, c. 207 and c. 208 (1994) [p. 437 and p. 437]

27 70 Del. Laws, c. 73 (1995) [p. 105]

28 70 Del. Laws, c. 443 (1996) [pp. 1070-73]

29 71 Del. Laws, c. 41 (1997) [pp. 75-76]

30 71 Del. Laws, c. 268 and c. 479 (1998) [p. 713 and pp. 1424-25]

31 72 Del. Laws, c. 49 and c. 86 (1999) [p. 70 and pp. 102-103]

32 73 Del. Laws, c. 281, c. 363, and c. 400 (2002) [pp. 702-703, c. 1026-27, and p. 1089]

33 74 Del. Laws, c. 244 and c. 245 (2004) [p. 562 and pp. 563-66]

34 75 Del. Laws, c. 35, c. 65, and c. 87 (2005) [p. 32, p. 68, and p. 95]

35 75 Del. Laws, c. 425 (2006) [p. 561]

36 76 Del. Laws, c. 43 (2007) [vol. I, p. 18]

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


Town of Millsboro records at the Delaware Public Archives include:

  • Minutes of the Commissioners/Town Council (1909-1993): 7150-000-001
  • Ordinances (1931-1977): 7150-000-002
  • Alderman’s Record Book (1909-1939): 7150-000-003


jnl / September 6, 2018 | April 22, 2019