RG# 7000

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Bethany Beach c. 1945
RG 9015-028-000: Bethany Beach, Journey’s End & Atlantic Apts c. 1945

1900 – 1949

Established as a Christian campsite, lots were laid out in the area that would become the Town of Bethany Beach by 1901, but it was not until 1909 that the Town was incorporated.

Named in its incorporating Act as “The Commissioners of the Town of Bethany Beach,” seven Commissioners were appointed to plot the Town, whose metes and bounds were specified. New Commissioners were to be elected within a year to replace those that had been appointed. They were to serve for two years, with half being up for election in one year and half the next. Both males and females were allowed to participate in the election process as long as they had been freeholders within the Town for six months prior to the election. The Commissioners were to appoint a President and a Secretary-Treasurer from their members and were to meet regularly. The Commissioners were to regulate and maintain the streets as well as layout additional streets when so petitioned by at least fifteen freeholders. To assist them in maintaining the streets, the Commissioners were to receive $200 from Sussex County. They were also to oversee the curbing and paving of sidewalks which was to be carried out and paid for by adjacent taxpayers. The Incorporating Act contained a long list of additional activities which the Commissioners had the power to regulate for the good and welfare of the Town. Many were typical of those contained in other incorporating acts of the same period. One of their powers allowed them to dig, drain, or fill up lots that were deemed dangerous and unwholesome or necessary to achieve the goals of the Incorporating Act, charging the cost of this to the property owner. The Act also determined that buildings would sit no more than ten feet back from the front lot lines and that the manner of the building of houses and of their demolition would be regulated. They also prohibited the use of candles in barns, stables, and other buildings, and they adopted various other ordinances to regulate things which might cause a fire. Having widely prohibited candles, they were to provide lamps and light the streets and public places with electric lights. They were also to provide for a sewage system, suitable drainage, and to provide a healthy environment by regulating various animals including horses, mules, cattle, sheep, swine, and dogs. The only Town officials specifically mentioned in the Act were the Alderman and the Constable(s) whose duties included ensuring compliance with Town ordinances. The amount of taxes to be levied was not to exceed $1,000 but could be raised to $3,000 with voter approval. The Commissioners were authorized to borrow money of up to $5,000 without referendum approval and up to $20,000 with referendum approval. Interest on the municipal bonds, which the Act required to be not more than 5%, was to be repaid from the Town’s general fund, but the Commissioners were empowered to levy a special tax and establish a sinking fund in order to repay the principal on the bonds.1

In 1913, the Incorporating Act was amended to allow for a 6% interest rate of the municipal bonds, and to make amendments to the election process.2 In 1923, the interest rate on municipal bonds was further increased to 12%. In addition, the Commissioners were empowered to erect, or to contract for the erection of, a waterworks and an electric light plant, and, if needed, to borrow money for its erection and operation. Another provision of this law decreased the number of freeholders required to petition for opening a new street to five.3 In 1929, in addition to an amendment in the assessment procedures, the Commissioners were authorized to sell the Town Hall, using the funds raised to retire outstanding bonds.4 In 1941, three pieces of legislation amended the 1909 Incorporating Act; these amendments included: changes to the election procedures; increasing the amount of taxes that could be levied to $4,500; refunding the municipal bond that had been issued and reissuing it at a lower interest rate, and doubling the amount of money that could be borrowed without referendum.5 Four year later, the maximum amount of tax that could be levied annually was increased again to $6,000, and the Town was empowered to borrow $40,000 to repair the storm damage due to the hurricane of 1944.6

An Act to re-incorporate Bethany Beach was passed in 1947, establishing a Charter for the Town and requiring that the Charter be approved by referendum. The 1947 Charter provided for the Town to be governed by seven Commissioners serving two-year terms. They were to assign members to be President, Secretary, and Treasurer, and were required to meet monthly. Appointed Town officials included an Alderman, an Auditor, a Town Solicitor, and a Police Chief, and in addition, a three-member Board of Health was established. In general, the powers of the Town mirrored those which were included in the 1909 Charter with some minor changes including doubling the allowed set-back of houses from the lot lines to twenty feet. The Commissioners were newly empowered to erect and operate electric, power, gas and water plants. No specific amount of indebtedness was included in the Act. The maximum amount of taxes to be levied annually for the general budget was not to exceed $8,000, an increase of $2,000.7

When, in 1949, amendments were made to the Town’s governing document, these referenced the 1909 Incorporating Act not the Charter of 1947. This indicates that the Charter did not receive referendum approval. The 1949 amendments allowed for changes in the elections procedure established in 1909 and set the amount of taxes which could be levied annually at $7,000.8


1950 – 1999

In 1951, the Commissioners were authorized to erect, maintain and operate a water distribution plant, borrowing $125,000 with which to accomplish this. Another law provided an additional increase in the amount of taxes which could be levied annually, to $10,000.9 In 1953, an amendment empowered the Town to compel property owners to maintain vacant lots and set specific fines for non-compliance.10 In 1955, the amount of taxes to be levied on an annual basis was increased to $15,000, and further changes were made to the election procedures.11   

The Charter to re-incorporate the Town was passed in 1955. It called for a name change for the municipal corporation to the “Town of Bethany Beach,” and also required referendum approval. In this Charter revision, the Town’s limits remained unchanged but they were given the power to annex after approval by referendum. The Town was no longer governed by Commissioners but by a Town Council of seven members who were to meet monthly. Town officials now included a Collector of Taxes, an Assessor, an Auditor, an Alderman, a Police Chief, and a Town Solicitor as well as a Board of Health. The powers of the Town were categorized into fourteen broad categories, specifically: to preserve and protect the peace, health, welfare and morals of the Town’s residents removing nuisances and preventing vice; to proscribe methods for fire prevention, maintain a water plant and a volunteer fire company to protect the resident’s from fire; to enforce a code of building regulations in order to protect the health, safety and welfare of the Town’s residents; to control the drainage of water; to lay out, maintain, and pave streets, gutters and curbs; to plot the boundaries of the town and its streets and to provide lighting for all roads and public places; to levy and collect licensing fees from businesses and to regulate public utilities levying and collecting taxes on gas and water mains, underground conduits, and electric poles; to regulate the placement of light poles and to prohibit swimming or bathing in the ocean within the town, providing life guards on the beach in the summer months; to regulate the keeping of dogs and to prevent the keeping of wild animals, swine, goats, cattle, chickens and other fowl; to establish regulation related to pedestrians, automobiles and all mechanically- and animal-drawn vehicles and to regulate parking including the installation of parking meters; to prescribe fines for violations of the laws or ordinances and maintain a jail for violators; and to investigate the conduct of any officer or employee of the Town. A change was made to the procedures under which taxes could be levied which made tracts of land over five acres exempt unless certain criteria were met. The amount of the maximum taxation for purposes of the general budget was set at $15,000. A special tax was set for funding the reduction of the town’s indebtedness, known as the sinking fund. More specific information related to laying out, paving, and repairing of streets and construction of gutters and curbs and sidewalks; jetties, bulkheads, and boardwalks; the water system; electric current and franchises; sewer system; and zoning. The Council was empowered to borrow money and issue bonds for municipal purposes which were specified as long as such indebtedness did not exceed 15% of the assessed value of all real property within the Town. The Council could borrow $10,000 without on a short-term basis without a referendum. The referendum to approve this Charter was not approved.12

Amendments made to the Town’s governing Act in 1957 continued to reference amending the Incorporating Act of 1909. The 1957 law called for an increase in the fine for violating the town’s ordinances and also increased the maximum annual taxation allowed to no more than $18,000.13 In 1959, amendments to the election procedures were approved.14 In 1965, the maximum taxation was increased to $40,000 annually, but it was specifically noted that any special tax required to reduce indebtedness on bonds was not to be so limited. In the same year, $30,000 in bonds were approved for the repair of the water system, and the total bonded indebtedness was set at $300,000.15 Among the amendments approved in 1969 was an increase in the maximum level of taxation to $100,000 annually; empowering the Town to collect for business licenses; eliminating the exemption from taxation for lots over five acres; and authorizing $900,000 in bonds for creating and operating a sewer treatment plant and disposal system.16 In 1968, the State of Delaware assisted the Town by deeding them an unused piece of land for use as part of the sewage treatment system; this land was to revert to state ownership if Bethany Beach did not use the land.17 In 1969, the Town was empowered to expend up to $20,000 to purchase land for municipal purposes.18 In 1972, the position of a Town Manager was established.19 A year later, there was a change related to the number of voters who could call for a referendum on ordinances, and the maximum taxation was increased to $200,000 annually.20 The year after that the Town was empowered to take land by eminent domain, and the position of Assistant Alderman was established.21 In 1976, the Town was authorized to borrow $100,000 without a referendum. Later that year, the provisions of the Incorporating Act of 1909 related to election procedures and the structure of the government were re-written in their entirety as there had been so many changes by an amendment in various laws to these sections of the 1909 Act. In the revised sections, the President of the Commission was recognized as the Mayor. There is also a Vice-President and Secretary-Treasurer chosen from among Commission members.22 In 1978, a law extended the time during which Bethany Beach had to use the land that had been deeded to it by the state for building a storage facility for its water system.23 A year later, there were a number of additional amendments to the 1909 Incorporating Act. Among these were an increase in borrowing power for the improvement or expansion of its water system, to $950,000; a requirement that the town’s total indebtedness remain under $1,150,000; and the authorization for the Town to have the power to construct jetties, bulkheads, boardwalks, and piers.24 Then in 1980, three separate pieces of legislation allowed for the Town to collect a tax on the transfer of real estate within its limits; provided for a bond to be issued to FHA in the amount of $950,000 for improvement and additions to the Town’s water supply; and made changes to the qualifications for holding office.25 Another increase in the maximum amount of tax that could be levied was made in 1982, to $600,000.26 In 1984, the entire section of the 1909 Incorporating Act on streets was eliminated. It was replaced by a section on borrowing money and issuing bonds for municipal purposes. In the same law, indebtedness was limited to 25% of the assessed value of the Town’s real estate and was subject to referendum.27 A year later, provisions for borrowing money were further revised, clarifying what constitutes municipal purposes and decreasing the amount of indebtedness for this purpose to 15% of assessed real estate value as well as expanding the procedures related to the referendum process. The law also specified that without a referendum, the Town could borrow no more than $400,000 for general purposes and $950,000 for expansion of the water plant.28

In 1986, a new Charter was finally adopted. In its introductory language, this Charter reflected that it was revising the 1909 Charter and subsequent amendments. The municipal corporation was in the name of the “Town of Bethany Beach.” The boundaries of the Town had increased since it had been first incorporated, both by the small piece of land which was deeded to it by the State of Delaware and by a little over fifteen acres which the town had annexed. The Town was empowered to make additional annexations with the approval of the residents by special election. All election procedures were updated in the new Charter as was the organization of Town government. The Town Council is to be made up of seven members; the elected President of which would be the Mayor. Other officers of the Council were the Vice Mayor and the Secretary-Treasurer. Each Town official was to serve a one-year term. The Town Council was to meet regularly but no schedule is proscribed in the Charter. There was also to be a Town Manager, a three-member Board of Assessment, an Alderman and Assistant Alderman, and a Chief of Police. Forty-six specific powers of the town are enumerated, but these are not deemed to be exclusive. Revenue sources are real estate and improvements at the rate of $100 per assessed value (no specific rate specified), utility fixtures, license fees, and fees for municipal services such as water or trash removal. The Town is empowered to borrow money and issue bonds and the total amounts were not increased from the level that had been approved by an amendment to the Charter the previous year. The Charter contains provisions related to subdivision and land development; streets and alleys; jetties, bulkheads and boardwalks; drainage; and water system.29

Three years after its adoption, it became necessary to make corrections and amendments to the 1986 Charter. In addition to several changes to the sections on annexation, qualification for election to the Town Council, the referendum process, the process for long-term borrowing, and on sub-division, the amendments gave the Town Council the power to impose impact fees on new construction and increased the amount of monies that the Town could borrow on a short-term basis from $400,000 to one-third of the current Town revenues.30 Further amendments to the provisions for long-term borrowing were made in 199231, and to qualifications for Town Council in 1996.32


2000 – Current

In 2000, an amendment changed the amount that could be levied by special tax for purposes of repaying long-term debt from 5% a year, to equal to the amount needed to pay the principal and interest on the loan for that year.33 In 2001, there were amendments to the duties of the Town Manager and the Chief of Police.34 In 2002,35 and in the following year,36 the election procedures were amended. In 2004, the procedures related to assessing taxes were amended.37 In 2006, a number of amendments impacted the provisions of the Charter on the Alderman and also made all-state motor vehicle statutes and fines applicable within the Town.38 In 2009, a minor change in election proceedings was required in order to align with state law.39 In 2010,40 there were further minor amendments to the Charter related to election and referendum procedures and increases in the fine that can be imposed for a civil infraction. Charter amendments in 2011 reflected further changes to the Alderman position.41 In 2012, the municipal election procedures were amended.42

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



View selected photographs of Bethany Beach



CITATIONS in Del. Laws

1 25 Del. Laws, c. 212 (1909) [pp. 477-95]

2 27 Del. Laws, c. 258 and c. 259 (1913) [p. 767 and pp. 768-69]

3 33 Del. Laws, c. 160 (1923) [pp. 510-11]

4 36 Del. Laws, c. 151 (1929) [pp. 430-31]

5 43 Del. Laws, c. 153, c. 154 and c. 155 (1941) [pp. 510-11, pp. 512-15, and pp. 516-19]

6 45 Del. Laws, c. 192 and c. 193 (1945) [p. 778 and pp. 779-83]

7 46 Del. Laws, c. 318 (1947) [pp. 947-80]

8 47 Del. Laws, c. 41 and c. 45 (1949) [p. 79 and p. 84]

9 48 Del. Laws, c. 38 and c. 156 (1951) [pp. 96-100 and p. 479]

10 49 Del. Laws, c. 300 (1953) [p. 600]

11 50 Del. Laws, c. 133 and c. 447 (1955) [p. 223 and pp. 974-75]

12 50 Del. Laws, c. 463 (1955) [pp. 1010-59]

13 51 Del. Laws, c. 215, c. 216, and c. 217 (1957) [p. 419, p. 420, and p. 421]

14 52 Del. Laws, c. 54 (1959) [p. 124]

15 55 Del. Laws, c. 131 and c. 132 (1965) [p. 444 and pp. 445-49]

16 56 Del. Laws, c. 130 and c. 159 (1967) [pp. 531-33 and pp. 576-80]

17 56 Del. Laws, c. 298 (1968) [p. 1066]

18 57 Del. Laws, c. 107 (1969) [p. 181]

19 58 Del. Laws, c. 388 (1972) [p. 1168]

20 59 Del. Laws, c. 82 and c. 293 (1973) [p. 153 and p. 978]

21 59 Del. Laws, c. 459 and c. 565 (1974) [p. 1569 and pp. 1810-12]

22 60 Del. Laws, c. 303 and c. 514 (1976) [pp. 937-38 and pp. 1772-79]

23 61 Del. Laws, c. 526 (1978) [pp. 1626-28]

24 62 Del. Laws, c. 39 (1979) [p. 45]

25 62 Del. Laws, c. 281, c. 362, and c. 371 (1980) [pp. 675-76, p. 847, and p. 865]

26 63 Del. Laws, c. 344 (1982) [p. 734]

27 64 Del. Laws, c. 440 (1984) [p. 991]

28 65 Del. Laws, c. 208 (1985) [pp. 372-75]

29 65 Del. Laws, c. 295 (1986) [pp. 548-78]

30 67 Del. Laws, c. 38 (1989) [pp. 45-48]

31 68 Del. Laws, c. 275 (1992) [p. 895]

32 70 Del. Laws, c. 557 (1996) [p. 1344]

33 72 Del. Laws, c. 321 (2000) [pp. 589-90]

34 73 Del. Laws, c. 156 (2001) [p. 398]

35 73 Del. Laws, c. 220 (2002) [p. 529]

36 74 Del. Laws, c. 50 (2003) [p. 68]

37 74 Del. Laws, c. 352 (2004) [pp. 856-7]

38 75 Del. Laws, c. 343 (2006) [p. 464]

39 77 Del. Laws, c. 117 (2009) [vol. I, p. 304]

40 77 Del. Laws, c. 305 and c. 436 (2010) [vol. II, p. 93 and pp. 426-27]

41 78 Del. Laws, c. 91 and c. 126 (2011)



42 78 Del. Laws, c. 281 (2012) [http://delcode.delaware.gov/sessionlaws/ga146/chp281.shtml]

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


Town of Bethany Beach records at the Delaware Public Archives include:

  • Minutes of the Commissioners/Town Council (1923-1997): 7000-000-001
  • Town Ordinances (1923-1986): 7000-000-002
  • Planning Commission Minutes (1997-2003): 7000-000-003


jnl / June 1, 2018 | April 22, 2019