Towns differ on who gets annexation vote

By Lynn R. Parks

In Seaford on Monday, a handful of citizens filed into city hall to cast ballots in an annexation vote. Owners of the property in question, about 6 acres on North Hurley Street, had requested the annexation and the citizens of Seaford were invited to express their opinions on the matter through the ballot box. A similar referendum took place recently in Blades, where by a vote of 49 to 29 residents approved the annexation of 13 acres east of town. In January, the town of Bridgeville will hold a public vote on whether farmland south of town and commercial properties along alternate U.S. 13 should become a part of the town. In all three of these towns, charters that are approved by the state provide that citizens are to have a voice in any annexation. But in other towns in western Sussex County, the decision whether or not to annex a piece of property can rest solely with the town council. In Laurel, the town council alone will decide whether nearly 500 acres will be annexed for a residential and commercial development that could drastically change the nature of the town. This has all come to a head in the wake of a recent failed annexation attempt in Seaford, when voters turned down property owners' request that more than 600 acres near Hearn's Pond be made a part of town. In Laurel, some citizens, inspired by the vote in Seaford, are demanding that they be given more say in the annexation. Whether citizens vote on annexations or not is determined in each town's charter. Throughout Delaware, charters vary town to town. In Clayton, for example, a request can be made by two-thirds of the property owners of a territory, but has to be OK'd by two-thirds of the town's residents. In a number of towns, including Dover, Farmington, Felton, Frederica, Harrington and Kenton, the town can initiate an annexation, but it has to be approved by vote of residents of the territory in question. Citizens of the town do not get a vote. In Laurel, the annexation process is rather complex. If all the property owners of a certain territory request annexation, approval of that annexation can be by a two-thirds vote of the town council. That is what is happening with the Discovery Project land. If, however, only five or more property owners request annexation, or if a committee appointed by the mayor finds that the annexation, even though requested by all the property owners, would not benefit the town, the matter can go to a public referendum, with residents of the town and of the territory eligible to vote. Delmar and Greenwood follow the same annexation procedure as Laurel. Citizens get a vote only if not all property owners want annexation, or if the committee finds no benefit. Seaford's procedure is simpler. Annexations can be initiated by five or more property owners in a territory. If a report prepared by a committee of city council members says that the annexation would be advantageous to the town, the council can approve by majority vote that the matter go to public vote. Residents of the city and of the territory are allowed to vote. If the report indicates that the annexation would not be advantageous to the city, the matter can still go to public vote if two-thirds of the city council approve it. In Bridgeville, a majority of a territory's property owners can request annexation. If such a request is made, the matter is put to a vote of town residents. In Blades, annexation can be initiated by property owners only. The matter is decided by a vote of residents of the town and of the property to be annexed. In Bethel, if a majority of owners of a property that is outside of town request annexation, the council arranges for a vote by the citizens of town. Procedures in other Sussex County towns are:

Bethany Beach - Annexation can be initiated by property owners or by the town. In either case, the matter is decided by a vote of residents of the territory proposed to be annexed.
Dagsboro - If all property owners of a territory request annexation, the land is annexed if two-thirds of the town council approve it. If not all property owners request the annexation, and a committee determines that the annexation would benefit the town and the territory, the matter is decided by a public vote of town and territory residents.
Dewey Beach - The town can initiate annexations. Residents of both the town and of the property proposed to be annexed vote on the matter.
Ellendale - The town can initiate annexations. Final decision is made by referendum, in which residents of town and of territory proposed for annexation vote.
Frankford - Annexations can be initiated by the town. Final decision is made by a public vote of residents of the town and of the territory proposed to be annexed.
Georgetown - If all property owners of a territory request annexation, the land is annexed if two-thirds of the town council approve it. If not all property owners request the annexation, and a committee determines that the annexation would benefit the town and the territory, the matter is decided by a public vote of town and territory residents.
Henlopen Acres - Annexations can be initiated by town. If the property is not exempt from taxation, the town council can approve the annexation with a two-thirds vote in favor. If the property is not tax-exempt, the matter is decided by public vote of residents of town and of the territory proposed for annexation. The numbers of votes per voter is determined by the amount of property tax the voter pays. Renters get one vote each.
Lewes - If all property owners of a territory request annexation, the land is annexed if two-thirds of the town council approve it. If not all property owners request the annexation, and a committee determines that the annexation would benefit the town and the territory, the matter is decided by a public vote of town and territory residents.
Millsboro - If all owners of a territory want annexation, and a committee appointed by the mayor determines that the annexation would be advantageous to the town, the annexation can be approved by a majority of the town council. If the committee determines that the annexation would be disadvantageous, or if not all property owners want annexation, the matter goes to public vote. Residents of the town and of the territory can vote.
Millville - Same as in Millsboro
Milton - Same as in Millsboro and Millville
Ocean View - Annexations are initiated by property owners and are approved by a majority vote of the town council. If the property in question is larger than five acres, however, citizens of the town can call a special election if a third of them disagree with the council vote. The annexation is denied if a majority of town residents vote against it.
Rehoboth Beach - annexations can be initiated by the city. Approval requires a majority vote in an election in which residents of the town and of the territory vote.
Selbyville - If all property owners of a territory request annexation, the land is annexed if two-thirds of the town council approve it.
If not all property owners request the annexation, and a committee determines that the annexation would benefit the town and the territory, the matter is decided by a public vote of town and territory residents.
South Bethany - annexations can be initiated by property owners or by the town. Approval requires a majority vote of residents of the territory proposed for annexation.

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