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RG# 6040

 

Felton
RG 9015-028-000: Felton, Main St. c. 1900

1850 – 1899

In 1856, as the railroad was being pushed south through Delaware, a “whistle stop” was created at the point where the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad line intersected with the road between Frederica (formerly Johnnycake Landing) and Berrytown (a community located west of Felton). Farmers would bring goods that they wished to ship to market to the railroad station and soon a village began to form. It was named Felton in honor of the railroad’s President, Samuel M. Felton, who had been a major force in bringing railroad service to central and southern Delaware. Felton was first incorporated in 1861 at which time five Commissioners were named who were to survey and lay out the Town. Its corporate limits were to be a half-mile square which would be bisected by the railroad line in a north-south direction. New Commissioners were to be elected within a year and electors were both male and unmarried female freeholders who resided within the town. Thereafter, Commissioners were to meet four times a year and were empowered to pass ordinances that would promote good government. Among their specific duties were the improvement of streets and sidewalks, the planting of ornamental trees, the making and repair of public pumps, the removal of nuisances and fire hazards and the keeping of the peace. The Commissioners were allowed to raise up to $100 in taxes to accomplish these tasks and could appoint an Assessor who would determine the amount of tax each resident would owe as well as a Tax Collector and a Treasurer. Above the general tax, dog owners or keepers were also taxed at fifty cents per dog. A local Justice of the Peace was to serve as the Town’s Alderman and a nearby Constable as the Town’s Constable.1

A second incorporation of the Town of Felton took place just eight years later, in 1869. The Incorporating Act showed no change in the Town’s corporate limits. The local Justice of the Peace who was serving as the Town’s Alderman was appointed as an ex-officio Commissioner and President of the Commission. The other four Commissioners were to be elected, as were the Assessor and Treasurer. The Collector of Taxes was now an appointed position. If there was no local Constable, then the Commissioners were to appoint a Bailiff to assist in keeping the peace. Electors were now specified to be only male citizens over the age of 21 who had paid their assessment. The Commissioners were to meet monthly and to appoint a Secretary from among their number to record the meetings and handle other Town business. The general duties of the Commissioners had not changed, but this Charter provides more guidance related to laying out of new streets and sidewalks. Kent County was also to assist in the improvement of streets by providing an annual appropriation of $100. The Commissioners were authorized to regulate the usage of the streets and to build a jail, as well as any other provisions related to keeping the peace. There was no increase in the amount of monies that could be taxed on the Town’s citizens; this remained at $100.2

A number of amendments were made to the 1869 Incorporating Act. In 1877, changes were made to the duties of the Bailiff.3 In 1883, an amendment provided for the Alderman be elected to his position as an ex-officio member of the Town Commissioners. It also increased the number of Commissioners to be elected from four to six, with four being freeholders, and increased the amount that could be levied in taxation annually to not more than $200 annually.4 Four years later, the annual allocation from Kent County for road improvement was increased to $150.5

 

1900 – 1949

In 1903, the allocation from Kent County for road improvement was increased to $200.The Town of Felton was re-incorporated in 1907 as “The Commissioners of Felton.” Again there were no changes to the corporate limits. The number of Commissioners was to be five, of which three would be freeholders; they were to serve two-year staggered terms. The Alderman was no longer one of the Commissioners. He was appointed by the Commissioners as were the Assessor, the Treasurer, the Town Constable, and Clerk. The Commissioners were to meet monthly and they were authorized to approve ordinances that would regulate the town in a beneficial manner. Like earlier charters, the focus of this Charter remained on the streets and sidewalks. The maximum amount that could be levied annually to accomplish the tasks which the Charter placed on the Commissioners was $600. In addition to this, Kent County was to allocate $250 annually towards the improvement of roads within the Town. Other revenue came from the tax on dogs which was set at fifty cents for male dogs and $1 for female dogs and on fines.7

The first amendment to the 1907 Incorporating Act was not made until 1919 when the Commissioners of Felton were authorized to borrow $15,000. Municipal bonds were issued and a special tax established to repay the yearly interest on the bonds. In addition, a sinking fund was established so that monies would be available to repay the bonds in thirty years.8 In 1923, the Town raised the maximum amount that could be levied for taxation in the Town annually to $2,000.9 In 1931, the Town once again borrowed funds; this time for the purpose of erecting a waterworks and furnishing the Town with water. This law allowed for the condemnation of land to accomplish this task. A special tax was authorized to repay the debt.10 In 1945, Felton’s Incorporating Act was amended to allow for taxes owed to the Town to be a lien upon a real estate which would then be subject to sale by the Kent County Sheriff to repay the monies owed to the Town.11

 

1950 – 1999

In 1953, the maximum amount of taxes to be levied annually was increased again to $3,500.12 Ten years later, five separate laws made a number of changes to the Charter. The first allowed for the Town to establish zoning ordinances; the second increased the maximum annual taxation to $7,500; the third allowed for annexation of parcels contiguous to the corporate limits; the fourth allowed for all citizens over the age of 21 who had paid their assessment to vote in Town elections; and the fifth allowed for the appointment of a Board of Health, adopted fire regulations and allowed the Town to provide financial support to the fire company, and allowed the Commissioners to fine owners who did not maintain their vacant lots.13 In 1977, there was a further increase in the Town’s maximum taxation annually to $25,000.14

In 1982, the Town of Felton was re-incorporated and a Charter established. The various amendments that had been made since 1907 were incorporated in the new Charter which also included some additional revisions. The Town was now incorporated as the Town of Felton. The town’s corporate limits now included two additional parcels, approved by referendum in 1976. All those who had reached the age of eighteen were now allowed to vote. The number of Commissioners remained at five, but now all are required to be property owners and residents of the town for at least one year prior to an election. Commissioners served two-year terms and met monthly to carry out the town’s business. Town officials appointed by the Commissioners included the Town President, the Alderman, the Assessor, the Treasurer, and the Police Chief. The Commissioners were to regulate for those areas requisite to secure good government and were authorized to borrow money and regulate the rate charged for a public utility. The Charter also called for the appointment of a Planning and Zoning Committee and a Board of Health. It also specifically addressed fire regulations and the maintenance of vacant lots. The maximum amount that could be taxed in the Town annually was set at $75,000. Delinquent taxes were subject to sheriff’s sale. This Charter also provided for the development and maintenance of parks and other public spaces within the Town.15 In 1994, the Charter was revised to add a new section on borrowing power which addressed both short term and long term borrowing.16 A year later, Felton would once again re-incorporate.

The 1995 re-incorporation included an enlarged town as there had been annexations of land in both 1989 and 1991, and the revised Charter now contained an expanded discussion of the annexation process. The governing body was now a Town Council composed of five members elected for two years, staggered terms. They were to meet at least monthly and were to elect one of themselves to serve as Mayor, as Vice-Mayor, as Treasurer, and as Secretary. The Town Council was to appoint a Town Assessor who would serve a one-year term, as well as any other officials/employees (such as a Town Manager) as they deemed necessary. Appointment of an Alderman was no longer required but they were to appoint a Chief of Police. The qualifications and duties of town officials, as well as the election process, are discussed. This Charter specifically enumerated the powers of the town, listing forty-three powers which were vested with the Town Council. In addition to issues related to planning and zoning, this Charter addressed subdivision and land development, condemnation of vacant buildings and code enforcement, fire regulations, and parks. The expenditure of town money and annual taxes were discussed. The maximum amount of taxation to be levied annually was not to exceed $175,000. The Charter also contains procedures on short-term (limited to $150,000) and long-term borrowing.17 This Charter was not amended prior to its update in 2007.

 

2000 – Current

In 2007, the Town was once again re-incorporated. This Charter is in many ways similar to the previous one. However, rather than listing the metes and bounds of the Town, reference is made to a map recorded with Kent County. The Town continues to be governed by an elected five-member Town Council. The largest change in the manner in which the Town is governed is the provision for the appointment of a Town Manager who would become the chief administrative officer. This Charter also has the first mention of a Town Solicitor. Some additional powers have been vested in the Town for a total of fifty specifically enumerated within the Charter.18

Three years after the adoption of this Charter, it was amended to allow for the Town Council members to have three-year, staggered terms and to allow the state’s registered voter list to be used as the source for determining qualified voters for town elections.19

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


CITATIONS in Del. Laws

1 12 Del. Laws, c. 47 (1861) [pp. 69-73]

2 13 Del. Laws, c. 479 (1869) [pp. 502-13]

3 15 Del. Laws, c. 461 (1877) [p. 599]

4 17 Del. Laws, c. 178 (1883) [pp. 341-42]

5 18 Del. Laws, c. 168 (1887) [p. 291]

6 22 Del. Laws, c. 425 (1903) [p. 891]

7 24 Del. Laws, c. 208 (1907) [pp. 476-87]

8 30 Del. Laws, c. 138 (1919) [pp. 311-16]

9 33 Del. Laws, c. 138 (1923) [p. 400]

10 37 Del. Laws, c. 154 (1931) [pp. 528-34]

11 45 Del. Laws, c. 183 (1945) [pp. 723-28]

12 49 Del. Laws, c. 299 (1953) [p. 599]

13 54 Del. Laws, c. 191, c. 192, c. 193, c. 194, and c. 195 (1963) [pp. 592-97]

14 61 Del. Laws, c. 135 (1977) [p. 395]

15 63 Del. Laws, c. 349 (1982) [pp. 741-51]

16 69 Del. Laws, c. 322 (1994) [pp.765-69]

17 70 Del. Laws, c. 91 (1995) [pp. 175-211]

18 76 Del. Laws, c. 131 (2007) [vol. I, pp. 144-67]

19 77 Del. Laws, c. 267 (2010) [vol. II, p. 54]

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


RECORDS at DPA


Town of Felton records at the Delaware Public Archives:

  • Minutes of the Commissioners/Town Council (1861-1918, including Alderman’s Docket (1873-1906), 1943-1988): 6040-000-001
  • Project Files (1985-1999): 6040-000-002

 

jnl / June 20, 2018 | April 5, 2019


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