What is a Tax Ditch?
A tax ditch is a governmental subdivision of the State. It is a watershed-based organization formed by a prescribed legal process in Superior Court. The organization comprises all landowners (also referred to as taxables) of a particular watershed or sub-watershed.
The operations of a tax ditch are overseen by ditch managers and a secretary/treasurer. These officers are landowners within the watershed and are elected at an annual meeting by the taxables.
Delaware has 228 individual tax ditch organizations, ranging in size from 56,000 acres as in Marshyhope Creek Tax Ditch in southern Delaware, to a two-acre system in Wilmington. These organizations manage over 2,000 miles of channels and provide benefits to over 100,000 people and almost one-half of the state-maintained roads. Tax ditch channels range in size from six to 80 feet wide and two to 14 feet deep. The dimensions depend on the acreage being drained and the topography.
How Tax Ditches Are Formed
The Delaware General Assembly enacted the 1951 Drainage Law to establish, finance, and maintain drainage organizations (tax ditches). Formation of a tax ditch can only be initiated by landowners who petition Superior Court to resolve drainage or flooding concerns.
This petition results in the Conservation District requesting an investigation by the Division of Soil and Water Conservation to "…determine whether the formation of the tax ditch is practicable and feasible and is in the interest of the public health, safety and welfare." If so determined, the Conservation District files the petition in Superior Court, and the Board of Ditch Commissioners (as directed by the resident judge) prepares a report on the proposed tax ditch.
This report contains information such as drainage ditch locations, needed rights-of-way, associated costs; and is the basis for a hearing held for the affected landowners. At the conclusion of the hearing, a referendum is held for the landowners to approve or disapprove formation of the tax ditch. The Board of Ditch Commissioners files the results of the hearing and referendum in Superior Court. The Court then holds a final hearing for any interested person to object to the formation of the tax ditch.
Following the outcome of the final hearing, and if deemed appropriate, the Superior Court judge issues a Court Order establishing the tax ditch organization. The Court Order establishes permanent rights-of-way for the tax ditch organization for construction and maintenance operations. It also empowers the organization with taxation authority to collect, from all affected landowners, funds to perform this construction and maintenance. The taxation amount for individual properties is also established through the Court Order.