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RG# 7210


RG 1380-006: Market in Selbyville

Shortly after Mason and Dixon carried out the survey that would establish the boundary line between Maryland and Delaware, a community began to develop near the location of a grist mill and sawmill on Sandy Branch at the headwaters of the Bishopsville Prong of the St. Martin’s River. Its name, Selbyville, dates to the nineteenth century when Sampson Selby, the owner of a local country store addressed goods to that location as Selby-Ville. The expansion of the town in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries can be traced to the fact that it served as a center for agricultural production, particularly strawberries.


1900 – 1949

In 1901, the Town of Selbyville was incorporated as “The Commissioners of the Town of Selbyville.” The first task of the appointed Commissioners was to have the Town surveyed and to lay out its bounds. The powers conferred upon the Commissioners included the power to regulate the streets, lanes, alleys, and sidewalks; to examine chimneys and stovepipes or any matter dangerous to the Town and to require it to be repaired, remedied or removed; to prevent nuisances; to prohibit the firing of guns, the making of bonfires, or setting off of fireworks; and to suppress any noisy or turbulent assemblages of negroes, boys, or other persons. The five Commissioners appointed by the Incorporating Act were to continue in office until elections could take place; every male taxable above the age of 21 was eligible to vote. Elected Commissioners were to serve two-year terms and were to hold four regular meetings each year to transact the Town’s business. A President of the Commissioners would be chosen to preside at meetings and to have general supervision over the affairs of the Town and its employees. Such employees were to include a Town Clerk, Alderman, Assessor, Tax Collector, Treasurer, and Town Constable. Both real and personal property were to be assessed, and the maximum tax to be levied on the Town was $500 annually. In addition, the Levy Court of Sussex County was to allocate $250 annually towards the repair of the streets.1 In 1901, a law was enacted which authorized the Commissioners to borrow $2,000, on the credit of the Town, with which to repair, improve and maintain the streets; and in addition, they were authorized to borrow up to $5,000 for the same purpose as well as to purchase machinery, supplies, and material and to hire labor to accomplish this work, issuing bonds to secure the debt. A special tax, not to exceed $700, was to be levied to pay the interest on the bonds and to establish a sinking fund adequate to redeem the bonds upon maturity.2

The first re-incorporation of Selbyville took place in 1911. This Act, which reflected no change in the Town’s boundaries, continued to vest the government of the Town in five elected Commissioners. The Town’s other officials also remained the same. The Commissioners were to be meet regularly but the timing or number of meetings was not specified. The major change from the 1901 Incorporating Act was an expansion of the powers of the Commissioners. These now included: to prevent vice, drunkenness and immorality; to preserve peace and good order; to prevent and quell riots, disturbances and disorderly assemblages; to suppress gaming houses and houses of ill fame; to prohibit, restrain or regulate all sports, exhibitions, or circuses unless licenses by the Town; to lay out and to open new streets; to establish the boundaries of all streets and remove encroachments upon streets, sewers, drains and watercourses; to prescribe the manner in which corporations or persons may dig in the streets; to direct and regulate the planting and preserving of ornamental shade trees and prohibit their destruction; to enforce the removal of snow from sidewalks and gutters; to pave the streets; to manage the care of unimproved lots and assess the costs to the owner; to prevent and punish horse racing  and immoderate driving in the streets; to make and regulate wells and pumps; to restrain the running of animals in the streets; to restrain drunkards, vagrants and beggars; to abate and remove nuisances; to do what is deemed necessary by the Board of health to ensure the health of the inhabitants of the Town; to regulate the construction of chimneys and compel them to be swept; to regulate or prohibit the things which might be dangerous in promoting fires; and to establish and regulate a suitable sewer and drainage system. Another new power vested in the Commissioners was to allow them to borrow money and issue bonds. Upon petition of ten freeholders and approval at a Town meeting, the Commissioners were authorized to borrow up to $10,000 but were required to redeem a $500 bond annually in repayment of the debt. The Commissioners were also given the power to annex contiguous territory if so petitioned by fifteen freeholders of the Town. In addition to assessing real and personal property, a per capita tax of $1 was assessed on all male citizens. This Act also increased the maximum amount of taxation to be levied to $1,000 annually but provided that this could be increased to $3,000 if this was action received referendum approval. Sussex County’s allocation towards road repair was also increased to $500 annually.3

The first amendment to the 1911 Incorporating Act was in 1920 when the maximum amount of taxes annually was increased to $2,000, and the limitation of $10,000 on bonded indebtedness was removed.4 In 1927, the Commissioners received authorization to sell the electric lighting plant and distribution system and to franchise with a third party to supply light, heat, and power. The same year, they received authorization to borrow $30,000 for street improvements, there was a provision made to redeem a $1,000 bond yearly in order to reduce the debt. Also in 1927, the maximum amount to be levied in taxes was again increased to $4,000 annually; the Town was authorized to increase this to a maximum of $6,000 after referendum approval.5 

The second re-incorporation of the Town was in 1931 and was in the name of “The Mayor and Council of the Town of Selbyville.” The Act instructed the Council to have the Town plotted and recorded with Sussex County. There was to be a Mayor and four Councilmen to govern the Town, each serving two-year terms. Electors could be either male or female, as long as they had paid their Town taxes. The Council was to meet at least twelve times a year. The appointed Town officials remained the same, and the responsibilities of all officials were outlined in detail. The Act contained a list of powers vested in the Mayor and Council which, in addition to those contained in the 1911 Incorporating Act included the power to purchase or receive lands and chattels for municipal purposes; to receive bequests and donations; to acquire and maintain public buildings; to appropriate funds for the relief and care of the sick and deceased; to lay out and establish public parks; to open, establish, widen, or improve streets and sidewalks; to construct and maintain gutters; to acquire or construct sewers, to condemn property, to fix the height and materials of buildings and the maintenance of same; to require the owners of public buildings to provide safe and sufficient exits; to issue building permits; to provide for supplying water including the erection of a water work; to provide lighting to the streets and to the Town’s inhabitants; to license and tax auctioneers, the storage of gunpowder and other dangerous materials, and exhibitions and shows; to make and enforce sanitary regulations including the burial of the dead; to punish those who create a nuisance; to prohibit animals from running at large; to provide for an efficient fire and police force; to require the registration of real estate; to issue business licenses; to assess real property and telegraph, telephone and electric light poles; and to annex territory when requested by three-fourths of the freeholders of the land to be annexed. Assessments were to be made on real property and there was to be a per capita tax of $2 on all citizens over 21. The maximum tax to be levied in the Town was $10,000 of which $500 is to be allocated in support of the fire company. Manufacturing industries were exempt from taxes for ten years. The Act included no authorization for the Town to borrowing money and issue bonds.6

It would be seventy years before Selbyville would be re-incorporated. During that time, there were numerous amendments. The first of these was in 1933. It allowed for a rebate if a citizen paid their taxes early.7 Also in 1933, the Act was amended to re-introduce the authorization to borrow money which had been omitted from the 1931 Incorporating Act. As previously, citizens must petition for such an action. Up to $100,000 was authorized to be borrowed with $2,000 in bonds being redeemed each year.8 In 1937, the Town was authorized to borrow up to $2,000 for immediate needs with only the approval of Mayor and Council.9 In 1941, the maximum amount of taxes to be levied annually increased to $15,000. In addition, the provision that annexing new territory required a petition from three-fourths of the residents was eliminated. However, annexation required that the land must be contiguous and expand the Town boundary by no more than a half mile. Also in this year, the $9,000 remaining unpaid and due from the bonds issued in 1927 were to be redeemed and new bonds issued in this amount with $1,000 in principal to be repaid per year.10 In 1947, compensation for various Town officials was increased. In addition, the Town was given the authority, after referendum approval, to borrow $250,000 with which to construct and operate a sewer system and sewage disposal plant. Voting in the referendum was by weighted balloting with one vote for every dollar paid in taxes. The sewer fees were to be used to pay the interest on the municipal bonds as well as to establish a sinking fund with repayment of the principal to be at $10,000 a year.11 Two years later, it was determined that there were insufficient funds authorized to fund a sewer system and the amount was increased to $350,000 with repayment of the principal increased to $14,000 a year. The maximum amount that could be levied for general taxes was also increased to $25,000 annually.12


1950 – 1999

A 1951 law authorized the Town to borrow an additional $75,000 to improve the water plant and repair the water lines. Another law that year revised the compensation for elected and appointed Town officials.13 In 1953, the Incorporating Act was revised so that a resident must live in the Town for a year in order to vote; previously, thirty days was all that was required.14 The maximum tax to be levied annually was increased again in 1955, to $40,000.15 In 1965, $1 million was authorized to construct and maintain a sewage plant,16 but then in 1971, DNREC provided a grant to Selbyville to pay up to a third of the costs of a water treatment/sewage plant. Also in 1971, the Town, in anticipation of revenue, was vested with the power to borrow up to $50,000 to be repaid out of general funds within ten years, repealing the 1937 amendment which had allowed similar borrowing, and the maximum amount of taxes to be levied annually was increased to $100,000.17 The process by which territory was annexed was revised in 1973; one process would be followed if all of the owners of the land petition for annexation and another, which would require referendum approval, if at least five landowners petition for annexation. In the same law, revisions were made to the election process for the Mayor and Commissioners.18 In 1985, the maximum bonded indebtedness for the sewer project was increased again to $2 million, and the weighted voting process which applied to referendum voting was eliminated.19 A year later, another law was passed which clarified when bonds could be issued.20 Beginning in 1987, several laws were passed which impacted the Town’s revenue and spending. Also in that year another change was made to the amount that the Town could be taxed annually which was increased to $500,000.21 In 1991, the amount that could be borrowed without referendum approval (short term borrowing) was increased to $200,000.22 In 1994, there was an increase made in the fine to be charged to those who violated an ordinance.23 A 1996 law once again increased the amount of taxes which could be levied which were now limited to no more than 3% of the appraised value of the Town’s real estate. It also revised the Town’s procedures on long term borrowing after referendum approval, the cap on which was to be, in aggregate, no more than 25% of the appraised value of the Town’s real estate.24 In 1999, the final amendment to the 1931 Act was passed; it addressed procedures when actions or suits were brought against the Town.25


2000 – Current

In 2001, The Town of Selbyville was re-incorporated as the “Town of Selbyville,” and a Charter was established. The Charter sought to incorporate the many amendments that had been made since the passage of the 1931 Incorporating Act. The Town’s territorial limits are not specifically listed in this Charter which indicates that the Town had been plotted in 2000 and that this plot has been recorded with the Sussex County Recorder of Deeds. Annexing land was authorized in accordance with the procedures contained in the Charter. The election process has been updated and allows all those 18 and over to vote. The Town remains governed by a Mayor and a Council consisting of four members; all are elected to two-year terms. A Vice-Mayor is chosen from the Council members to serve for one year. The Mayor presides over Council meeting but cannot vote unless there is a tie. The Council meets six times a year, and all members must be present including the Mayor in order to have a quorum. Other Town officials are a Town Administrator, a Secretary-Treasurer, and a Town Solicitor. The Town has the option of appointing a Police Force. This Charter specifies fifty-five specific powers, most of which were included in the 1931 Incorporating Act. The Town’s newly specified powers are the power to acquire and maintain a jail; to provide for ambulance service; to enforce all motor vehicle laws; to charge impact fees to recover the costs of making municipal improvements, and to establish a pension and/or health and welfare plan for their employees. The Town has adopted the Sussex County assessment process to serve as the basis of municipal taxation, and all those over 18 are subject to a per capita tax. Supplemental assessments of real estate in particular situations are also provided for in the Charter. The maximum amount of taxation levied on the Town continues to be 3% of the appraised value of real estate. The Town also charges a fee on the transfer of all real estate, and on water, sewer, electric garbage, and other municipal services. The limits on borrowing were increased in 2001 the Charter. Short term borrowing, which must be repaid in ten years, was increased to a maximum of $500,000, and long term borrowing, which requires referendum approval, is now limited, in aggregate, to no more than 50% of the appraised value of the Town’s real estate.26

The Charter has been amended only twice since 2001. A 2002 amendment provided that a public process and referendum was not required when bonds were being refunded and re-issued at face value.27 In 2003, there was a clarification made to the way in which fines for violating ordinances could be applied.28

For the fully amended text of the current Charter, see

CITATIONS in Del. Laws

1 22 Del. Laws, c. 201 (1901) [pp. 483-90]

2 25 Del. Laws, c. 206 (1909) [pp. 450-452]

3 26 Del. Laws, c. 241 (1911) [pp. 659-77]

4 31 Del. Laws, c. 45 (1920) [p. 105]

5 35 Del. Laws, c. 136, c. 137, and c. 138 (1927) [pp. 450-51, pp. 452-54, and p. 455]

6 37 Del. Laws, c.166 (1931) [pp. 613-31]

7 38 Del. Laws, c. 122 (1933) [pp. 488-90]

8 39 Del. Laws, c. 26 (1933) [pp. 89-90]

9 41 Del. Laws, c. 165 (1937) [p. 555]

10 43 Del. Laws, c. 185, c. 186, c. 187, and c. 188 (1941) [p. 851, pp. 852-3, pp. 854-5, and pp. 856-7]

11 46 Del. Laws, c. 220, c. 279, and c. 280 (1947) [pp. 590-91, p. 804, and pp. 805-09]

12 47 Del. Laws, c. 20 and c. 30 (1949) [pp. 27-29 and pp. 45-49]

13 48 Del. Laws, c. 65 and c. 108 (1951) [pp. 140-45 and pp. 218-20]

14 49 Del. Laws, c. 243 (1953) [p. 450]

15 50 Del. Laws, c. 293 (1955) [p. 564]

16 56 Del. Laws, c. 258 (1965) [pp. 693-97]

17 58 Del. Laws, c. 13, c. 85, and c. 111 (1971) [pp. 17-18, pp. 178-79, and c. 224-25]

18 59 Del. Laws, c. 193 (1973) [pp. 523-30]

19 65 Del. Laws, c. 182 (1985) [p. 314]

20 65 Del. Laws, c. 250 (1986) [p. 489]

21 66 Del. Laws, c. 40 (1987) [p. 79]

22 68 Del. Laws, c. 26 (1991) [p. 60]

23 69 Del. Laws, c. 215 (1994) [p. 440]

24 70 Del. Laws, c. 592 (1996) [pp. 1413-18]

25 72 Del. Laws, c. 19 (1999) [pp. 34-35]

26 73 Del. Laws, c. 2 (2001) [pp. 1-33]

27 73 Del. Laws, c. 219 and c. 323 (2002) [p. 528 and pp. 885-86]

28 74 Del. Laws, c. 163 (2003) [p. 412]

Delaware Laws from 1935 to present can be found online at


Town of Selbyville records at the Delaware Public Archives include:

  • Minutes of the Town Council (1956-1992): 7210-000-001


jnl / October 2, 2018, April 15, 2019

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