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RG #5200

 

Odessa
RG 9015-028-000-02216: Old Post Office, Odessa

The early 1800s

Located on the Appoqinimink Creek, Cantwell’s Landing was one terminus of a portage road on a route established in the seventeenth century to provide access from the Delaware Bay to the Chesapeake Bay. The landing and the nearby village of Cantwell’s Bridge were named for Edmund Cantwell who settled near here in the 1670s. Its location ensured its importance as a shipping access point for both goods and people traveling to and from Wilmington and Philadelphia throughout the eighteenth and into the early nineteenth century. In 1821, when there were no heirs for the land which contained the village of Cantwell’s Bridge, it escheated to the State of Delaware and the General Assembly appointed Commissioners to survey the principal street, connecting the street to the Kings Road, and also laying out additional streets, lots of up to five acres, and a school lot.1 As growth continued and in order to facilitate the transportation of goods, a rail line was laid to connect the Cantwell’s Bridge to Middletown to the west. Soon after this, in an effort to highlight the continued importance of transportation by water, Town officials renamed the Town, Odessa, in honor of a port on the Black Sea. 

   

1850 – 1899

The Town of Odessa was first incorporated in 1873 as the “Commissioners of Odessa.” An election was to be held for five Commissioners, an Assessor, and a Treasurer. The Commissioners were to serve two-year, staggered terms and the other officials, one year. Four of the Commissioners and the Assessor were required to be freeholders in the Town. The Commissioner’s first task was to establish the boundaries of the Town and its streets and have this recorded at the Recorder of Deeds office in New Castle County. After establishing the limits of the Town, they were required to meet four times yearly to adopt ordinances to govern the Town. The powers vested in them included regulating the streets, lanes, and alleys of the Town including paving a street if petitioned by fifteen or more freeholders; regulating the sidewalks and directing them to be paved or improved at the expense the adjacent property owner; on the complaint of any citizen, examining any chimney, stove-pipe, or other matter dangerous to the Town and if determined dangerous, compelling its repair or remediation; preventing or removing nuisances; prohibiting the firing of guns or pistols, making of bonfires, or setting off of fireworks, or any dangerous sport or practice; preventing or suppressing any noisy or turbulent assemblages; and preventing swine, horses, goats, and geese from running at large in the Town. A New Castle County Justice of the Peace residing in the Town was to assist the Commissioners with those duties which involved keeping the peace. In addition, the county constable who lived in the Town was to be considered the Town Constable and along with other special constables that might be appointed by the Commissioners would be considered a Police force. The Town was empowered to charge a tax in order to provide funds for the general improvement, benefit, and ornament of the Town; this tax was not to exceed $300 annually and was to be assessed on real estate and assessable personal property of all male citizens, 21 and over, who resided in the Town or owned property there. In addition, a separate tax was levied against owners and keepers of dogs, fifty cents for male dogs and $1 for female dogs. It was the Assessor’s duty to determine the amount of the assessment and that of the Collector, who was to be appointed by the Commissioners, to collect the both the general and the dog taxes owed. Additional revenue to repair the Town’s roads, in the amount of $150 annually, was to be provided by the Road Commissioners of St. Georges Hundred. The Incorporating Act prohibited the Town Commissioners from borrowing money.2

In the thirty-two years, until the Town of Odessa would be re-incorporated, the Town’s Incorporating Act was amended three times. In 1881, a law indicated that if no Justice of the Peace lived in the Town, then a Notary Public could exercise the powers of this position in keeping the peace.3 In 1885, a law indicated that it was amending the Incorporating Act by increasing the road taxes were from $200 to $300 [note that the 1873 Act indicated that the road taxes were $150].4 An 1899 law indicated that the road tax allotment was no longer the responsibility of the Road Commissioners of St. Georges Hundred; it was to be paid by New Castle County.5

 

1900 – 1949

In 1905, the Town of Odessa was re-incorporated. Much of this Incorporating Act mirrored the 1873 Act; however, the language in the amendments made since that time was incorporated. Other changes in the Act were increasing the tax levied to a maximum of $600 annually and decreasing the minimum number of freeholders who were required to petition for the paving of a street to seven.6

It would be forty-two years before the Town’s Incorporating Act was again revised. During that time only three laws made any amendment to the 1905 Act. Two of these laws were passed in 1907; the first made several technical corrections to the 1905 Act, and the second increased the dog tax to $1 for males and $2 for females and also required that dogs be registered.7 In 1927, the cap on the general tax to be levied on the Town was increased to $1,500 a year.8   

The next re-incorporation of the Town of Odessa, in the name of “The Mayor and Council of Odessa,” was enacted in 1947. This Act listed the specific metes and bounds of the Town which contained about 280 acres of land and gave the Town jurisdiction over all wharves, docks, and piers in the Appoquinimink Creek. The Act also provided circumstances under which contiguous territory could be annexed. The Town was to be governed by a Mayor and five Council members, four of whom were to be freeholders and one of whom was not required to be a freeholder. The voters also were to elect a Town Treasurer. The term of office for all elected Town officials was two years. Appointed Town officials included a Council Secretary, an Assessor, a Town Constable, and a three-member Board of Health. The Mayor was to be a conservator of the peace, with the same authority as a Justice of the Peace. The Mayor was also to preside at all Council meetings which were to be held monthly. The powers vested in the Town, as enumerated in the Act, were greatly expanded from the earlier Acts of Incorporation and among them were to purchase, retain, or dispose of lands, goods, and chattels for municipal purposes; to receive bequest, gifts and donations of property; to acquire, erect and maintain public buildings for municipal purposes; to lay out public parks; to lay out improve or vacate streets; to construct and maintain sewers, drains and gutters; to provide water for the Town’s inhabitants by providing for the acquisition or erection and maintenance of works to supply water and regulating the cost for its use; to provide for lighting the streets and to provide lighting for the Town’s inhabitants; to fix and determine the line in the creek beyond which no wharf, dock or pier was to be built; to regulate and control the storage of gunpowder and other combustible material; to make and enforce sanitary conditions; to prevent the introduction of infectious diseases; to regulate and control the erection of buildings requiring licenses before initiating building construction or repair; to regulate certain aspects of building construction; to prohibit the going at large of any horse, cow, or other animal; to provide for the registration of dogs; to grant licenses to temporary businesses, pool or billiard rooms, circuses, menageries, or theatrical exhibitions; and to make and enforce fire, police, and other regulations that will protect persons and property as well as maintain the public peace, prevent crimes, and promote public morals. The Town was empowered to make assessments on real estate, and on all residents above the age of 21 years and to levy taxes in just and reasonable proportions and rates. The Act contained procedures to ensure that the Town would receive payment of taxes. It also provided a possible ten-year exemption for manufacturing plants as well as additional revenue from taxing telephone, telegraph electric light, electric power, and trolley poles. The Act did not specify the maximum amount of tax to be levied annually. Unlike the 1873 and 1905 Incorporating Acts, this Act empowered the Town to borrow money and issue bonds, establishing a sinking fund to ensure repayment of the principal of the bonds when due. The amount borrowed was not to exceed, in aggregate, 25% of the assessed value of the Town’s real estate. In addition, if the amount to be borrowed at any one time exceeded 2% of the value of the real estate, then referendum approval was required. A special tax was to be levied annually to ensure repayment of the debt.9

 

1950 – 1999

The first amendment to be made to the 1947 Incorporating Act was in 1976 at which time election procedures were updated.10 Additional revisions to the Town’s election procedures were outlined in a law enacted three years later.11 In 1989, the Town was empowered to collect a tax on the transfer of real estate within the Town; however, in order to initiate this, referendum approval was required.12   

In 1991, Odessa was re-incorporated and a Charter established in the corporate name of “The Town of Odessa.” A description of the territorial limits of the Town was included in the Charter; it confirmed that no expansion has taken place since 1947. The procedures required to annex territory were greatly expanded and referendum approval of annexation was required. The Charter outlined the election procedures as well as the qualification for voters and for those holding public office. The government of the Town is vested in a Town Council composed of a Mayor and four Council members, and a Treasurer, all of who are elected by popular vote to serve two-year terms. Appointed Town officials include a Council Secretary, a Town Manager, a Town Solicitor, and an Alderman. The Mayor presides over meetings of the Council and votes as one of its members; he also exercises executive powers in the Town. The Council is required to meet eleven times during the year to consider ordinances, regulations, resolutions, and rules related to the powers vested in them. The Charter listed forty-two broad powers which are vested in the Town. These include and further describe the powers contained in the 1947 Incorporating Act as well as list a number of additional powers. Among the new powers are: to carry out slum clearance and re-development; to provide protection services for citizens of the Town to include police, fire, rescue and paramedic support and contribute or donate funds to same; to pay for the acquisition, construction, improvement, repair, or demolition of any Town property from the proceeds of any grant or loan made to the Town by any governmental entity of the United States or the State of Delaware; to regulate and control the planting and treatment of ornamental shade trees in the streets of the Town and prohibit their destruction; to enter into contracts with the State of Delaware for the permanent maintenance, repair or upkeep of any street; to condemn buildings or structures which are a fire hazard or otherwise unsafe; to require a building permit prior to the construction, alteration or demolition of buildings; to take private property by condemnation proceedings; to regulate the conduct of any business, profession, or occupation within the Town and license and collect fees annually from them; to zone or district the Town; to regulate the subdivision of land; to impose “impact fees” on new development; to investigate the conduct of any officer of the Town; and to establish a pension or health and welfare plan or both for the employees of the Town. Sources of Town revenue include the real property tax, the real estate transfer tax, license fees, charges made for municipal services, business taxes, and special assessments including impact fees. The Charter also provides for the Town to incur debt, through both short-term and long-term borrowing. Short term borrowing is limited to $50,000 to be repaid within five years from the general funds of the Town. After approval by referendum, the Town may engage in long term borrowing for those municipal purposes outlined in the Charter. Long term indebtedness is limited, in aggregate, to 5% of the appraised value of the Town’s real estate. The Town is required to provide for a special tax to repay the municipal bonds issued. The total amount of money to be raised by real property taxes and special taxes levied in connection with the repayment of interest and principal any municipal bonds is, annually, not to exceed 2% of the total appraised value of the Town’s taxable real estate. If at any time the Town proposes a capital expenditure of over $25,000, no matter the source of funding, they must receive referendum approval of this action. The Town is subject to a biannual audit.13

 

2000 – Current

The 1991 Charter has been amended twice. In 2000, a comprehensive law made a number of technical corrections; it also changed the biannual audit to annual and established a fiscal year that ran from July 1 to June 30. One very specific new provision of the law required a referendum vote with 90% of the Town’s registered voters signifying approval in order to sell the Academy Building at 315 Main Street.14 A year later, this requirement was extended to the removal or relocation of the Veteran’s memorial at the same location.15

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


 

View Selected Photographs of Odessa

 


CITATIONS in Del. Laws

1 6 Del. Laws, c. 63 (1821) [PP. 82-83]

2 14 Del. Laws, c. 537 (1873) [pp. 603-09]

3 16 Del. Laws, c. 485 (1881) [p. 629]

4 17 Del. Laws, c. 571 (1885) [p. 843]

5 21 Del. Laws, c. 279 (1899) [p. 516]

6 23 Del. Laws, c. 173 (1905) [pp. 288-95]

7 24 Del. Laws, c. 197 and c. 198 (1907) [p. 421 and p. 422]

8 36 Del. Laws, c. 128 (1927) [p. 406]

9 46 Del. Laws, c. 273 (1947) [pp. 757-86]

10 60 Del. Laws, c. 678 (1976) [pp. 2192-96]

11 62 Del. Laws, c. 115 (1979) [p. 273]

12 67 Del. Laws, c. 111 (1989) [p. 298]

13 68 Del. Laws, c. 141 (1991) [pp. 450-86]

14 72 Del. Laws, c. 339 (2000) [pp. 614-15]

15 73 Del. Laws, c. 152 (2001) [p. 390]

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


RECORDS at DPA


Town of Odessa records at the Delaware Public Archives include:

  • Minutes of the Town Council (1873-1998): 5200-000-001

jnl / February 7, 2019 | April 5, 2019


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