RG# 5050

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RG 1540-000-009: Elsmere c. 1934

1900 – 1949

In the early nineteenth century, the land just beyond the western limits of the City of Wilmington was a farm district with large estates. Due largely to the efforts of Joshua T. Heald, a real estate developer, whose “newspaper advertisements enticed prospective buyers with promises of escape from the noise and smells of the city, cheaper living outside city limits, and exemption from city taxes and building code regulations,” by late in the century, the area had evolved into the Wilmington’s first suburb.

In 1909 Elsmere was incorporated under the corporate name of “The Commissioners of Elsmere.” The boundaries of the Town were laid out in the Incorporating Act. The Act instructed male voters to elect five Commissioners to serve two-year terms with one-year terms for the other Town officials being elected, specifically, an Alderman (Justice of the Peace), a Treasurer, and an Assessor. Town officials appointed by the Commissioners included a Bailiff (Constable), a Collector of Taxes, and an Auditor. The Commissioners were to meet at least monthly in order to consider any ordinances needed for the good government and general welfare of the town. They choose a President to preside at these meetings and a Secretary to record the minutes. Initially, the most important tasks of the Commissioners were to lay out, improve and regulate the streets and sidewalks and to keep the peace. They were to carry out an assessment of the male citizens of the Town. The maximum tax that could be levied annually was set at $5,000.1

The first amendment to the Incorporating Act was passed in 1921 at which time the election procedures of the Town were amended to provide for all citizens of the Town who were over 21 and had paid their assessment to vote; all eligible voters were also to be assessed taxes. Four years later, the maximum amount to be levied in taxes was increased to $15,000 annually.2 In the same year, the Town asked for a referendum vote on borrowing $100,000 in order to establish a water and sewer system. The referendum did not pass; voters were not willing to pay the additional taxes that such a project would require.3 The election process was amended again in 1929.4 In 1937, the Town’s Incorporating Act was amended to allow for liens to be placed on real estate if citizens were delinquent in paying their taxes.5 In 1941, a number of pieces of legislation were approved which amended the Incorporating Act. The first of these increased the maximum amount to be levied annually for taxes to $25,000. The second made minor changes to the process for a citizen to appeal the amount of their assessment. The third repealed the language in the 1937 law which allowed for placing liens on property and replaced it with a more detailed process. The fourth lifted the limitation on the amount of fine which could be imposed by the Alderman; indicating instead that the imposed fine should be reasonable.6 In 1949, amendments to the 1909 Incorporating Act provided for the Commissioners to be compensated for their service to the Town, and also the cap on the amount of taxes which could be levied annually was increased to $50,000.7


1950 – 1999

Additional changes to the election process were made in 1951, and the maximum amount of taxes which could be levied was increased again, to $75,000.8 Forty-six years after its first incorporation, the Town of Elsmere was re-incorporated. Passed in 1955, the new Incorporating Act listed the municipal corporation as the “Town of Elsmere.” This new Incorporating Act gave the Town the right to annex land. The structure of government had changed; Elsmere was to be governed by a Mayor and Town Council. The Town was divided into six districts with each Council member elected to represent the district in which they resided and the Mayor elected at large by all qualified voters. Elections were to be held bi-annually; all those who had reached the age required to vote in state elections and who were residents of Elsmere could vote. The Mayor was the Town’s executive but could not regularly vote on matters before the Town Council, but he could cast a vote to break a tie. The Town Council was to elect a President Pro Tempore from among their members who would act as Mayor when the Mayor was unable to carry out his duties. Other Town officials included the Council Secretary, the Treasurer, the Solicitor, the Assessor, the Tax Collector, and the Chief of Police. There was also to be a Board of Health. The Town Council was considered the legislative body of Elsmere and given the power to adopt ordinances for the general welfare of the Town. A list of their powers was contained in the Act; improvement of the streets and sidewalks remained important tasks. In addition to these, the Town Council could raise revenue and borrow money. The maximum amount that could be raised through tax assessment of the Town’s citizens was still limited to $75,000; the maximum indebtedness was limited to 3% of the aggregate assessed value of real property in the Town. For short term borrowing, the limit was $10,000. The Act contained specific procedures related to the collection of taxes and any special assessment and the penalty for being delinquent in paying their taxes.9

Six years after it was re-incorporated, the 1955 Incorporating Act was amended to increase the maximum amount of taxes to be levied annually to $100,000.10 In 1980, the date on which the Town’s fiscal year was to begin was changed from July 1 to October 1; the maximum amount of taxes levied annually was changed to no more than 1½% of the assessed value of real property while adding an exemption for low-income citizens over 65; and the maximum amount allowed for short-term borrowing was increased to $75,000. In the same year, by state proclamation, home rule was established for the Town.11 A year later, in 1981, the requirement that the Mayor be a property owner in order to qualify to hold this office was eliminated; the Mayor only had to a resident of the Town. However, the Mayor was required to attend Council meetings regularly or else forfeit their position. There were also some changes to the election procedures.12 In 1987, there were changes made to the manner in which the Treasurer made payments, and the start of the Town’s fiscal year reverted to July 1.13

The Town of Elsmere was re-incorporated in 1991, and a Charter established. There was no change in the corporate limits of the Town. The overall structure of the government of the Town did not change but certain Town officials were eliminated. The Town Council appointments were now limited to a Solicitor and a Secretary. The administration of the Town was now to be carried out by a Town Manager and his staff and policing by a Department of Public Safety. Assessments of real estate were to be carried out triennially. The maximum amount to be levied in taxes annually remained at 1½% of the assessed value of real property.14

In 1992 the Town’s Charter was amended to repeal the section on the Department of Public Safety and to replace it with one that emphasized a Police Department with a Police Chief.15 Two years later, in 1994, the Town decided to change the timing of the elections for Mayor and Council from every two years to every four years.16 However, in 1997, the election process reverted back to taking place every two years.17 In 1998, the Town’s Charter was changed to allow the Mayor to vote on all actions taken by the Town Council.18


2000 – Current

In 2001, the Charter was amended related to the election process by removing all references to political parties from ballots; eliminating the need for voting if there was only one qualified candidate, and instituting new procedures for absentee voting.19 In 2005, the Charter was once again amended in numerous places. Some of these changes were: making the Treasurer an appointed position; eliminating the position of Secretary; requiring that any ordinance that was proposed include a fiscal impact statement; eliminating the cap on the amount of taxes to be levied annually; eliminating the requirement to conduct an annual assessment, and allowing low-income disabled citizens to apply for an exemption from property taxes.20 Two years later, the Town instituted a requirement that the Town’s budget must not exceed the anticipated annual revenue and called for the creation of a contingency fund.21 A year after this a minor change was made in the manner in which taxes were collected.22 In 2010, the Charter was once again revised in regard to the nomination and election process.23 In 2017, the amount that could be borrowed for municipal projects was changed to $20 million and there were some changes made to the manner in which funds could be borrowed.24 A year later, a Charter revision required that the amount that could be borrowed for short term needs must be limited to an amount that would not exceed anticipated revenue.25

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

CITATIONS in Del. Laws

1 25 Del. Laws, c. 176 (1909) [pp. 320-36]

2 32 Del. Laws, c. 117 (1921) [pp. 352-57]

3 34 Del. Laws, c. 125 (1925) [pp. 314-15]

4 36 Del. Laws, c. 159 (1929) [p. 491]

5 41 Del. Laws, c. 142 (1937) [pp. 365-67]

6 43 Del. Laws, c. 162, c. 163, c. 164, and c. 165 (1941) [pp. 663-72]

7 47 Del. Laws, c. 51 and c. 52 (1949) [pp. 93-94]

8 48 Del. Laws, c. 20 and c. 43 (1951) [pp. 65-67 and p. 106]

9 50 Del. Laws, c. 428 (1955) [pp. 904-44]

10 53 Del. Laws, c. 244 (1961) [p. 650]

11 62 Del. Laws, c. 240 (1980) [pp. 518-20]

12 63 Del. Laws, c. 65 (1981) [p. 105]

13 66 Del. Laws, c. 61 (1987) [p. 102]

14 68 Del. Laws, c. 3 (1991) [pp. 3-27]

15 68 Del. Laws, c. 235 (1992) [pp. 797-99]

16 69 Del. Laws, c. 416 (1994) [pp. 883-84]

17 71 Del. Laws, c. 126 (1997) [p. 240]

18 71 Del. Laws, c. 328 (1998) [p. 853]

19 73 Del. Laws, c. 155 (2001) [pp. 392-98]

20 75 Del. Laws, c. 187 (2005) [pp. 263-64]

21 76 Del. Laws, c. 16 (2007) [vol. I, pp. 21-22]

22 76 Del. Laws, c. 225 (2008) [vol. II, p. 86]

23 77 Del. Laws, c. 410 (2010) [vol. II, pp. 400-01]

24 80 Del. Laws, c. 430 (2016) [http://delcode.delaware.gov/sessionlaws/ga148/chp430.shtml]

25 81 Del. Laws, c. 7 (2017) [http://delcode.delaware.gov/sessionlaws/ga149/chp007.shtml]

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


Town of Elsmere records at the Delaware Public Archives are:

  • Minutes of the Commissioners/Town Council (1909-2003): 5050-000-001
  • Minutes of the Planning Commission (1969-1992): 5050-000-002
  • Resolutions of the Planning Commission (1962-2011): 5050-000-003
  • Minutes of the Board of Adjustment Minutes (1955-1992): 5050-000-004
  • Ordinances (1909-2009): 5050-000-005
  • Zoning Variances (1954-2006): 5050-000-006
  • Assessment Book (1914): 5050-000-007
  • Audit Reports (1942-2014): 5050-000-008


jnl / June 25, 2018 | April 23, 2019