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done or the cost of any work, excepting by taking the lump sum of money expended; and the trouble was increased by the fact that the department reports covered the calendar year, while the figures relating to the several departments in the Auditor's report covered the fiscal year from May to May."
(Opinion of Mr. E. W. Bowditch.)
"If it is fair to assume that taxpayers have a right to know, in reasonable detail, how the city spends its income, then it is proper to assert that the usual methods of making up the printed reports for each department fall so far short of what they should, that their publication and circulation are, to the ordinary taxpayer, of comparatively little value.
"Their general arrangement is not such as admits of making either fair comparisons or even reasonable deductions. For a professional mau there is little information conveyed, except the total expenditures. Obscurity is unnecessary, and their formu should be so remodelled, and results so tabulated, that any citizen can tell the cost of auy public work without difficulty. Moreover, reports that are not clearly stated are apt to cause distrust on the part of the reading public, usually unfounded, but frequently sufficient to raise the question of honesty of purpose of the authors."
"Moreover, no two departments, as far as noticed, make the reports up in the same way, nor do they appear to carry on the business of the office in the same manner.
"All reports should be made up, so far as possible, on one general scheme or skeleton, amplifying where necessary, in order to secure clearness for readers. If this is expecting too much, there is no objection to retaining the present form, except the bulk; but, in addition, some scheme of tabulation for the expenditures should he adopted that would enable any one to understand without difficulty not only the total expenditures each year, but what is more important, what the payments are for, and at what rates per unit of measure.'
"The folly of continuing a fiscal year that does not coincide with the calendar is very apparent if the attempt be made to check any series of expenditures given in the department reports with figures given in the auditor's report. The former are for the calendar year, and the latter are for the fiscal year, which has ended the last day of April.
"The change recently authorized of having the fiscal year begin February 1, instead of May 1, does not cure the difficulty complained of, though the apparent differences between the expenditures, as shown by the department reports and those shown in the auditor's reports, will be very much less than heretofore."
(Opinion of Messrs. Joseph Davis and J. Herbert Shedd.)
"We also consider it desirable to provide for a uniform system of keeping accounts, and we believe that these accounts should be published in the annual reports in a tabulated form, so that each citizen can easily ascertain the cost of any particular public work."
These gentlemen, Messrs. Bowditch, Davis, and Shedd, were commissioned in 1890 by the Citizens' Association to make an investigation into the conduct of city business. The reasons for this investigation are given in the report of the Association for 1890:
The impossibility of ascertaining the amount and cost of the work done by our several departments which has just been described, the knowledge that our expendi
ACCOUNTS AND REPORTS.
tures per capita are nearly double those of any other large city in the country, without, it is thought, any corresponding benefit to our citizens, and the general feeling of distrust in regard to the way in which our city work has been done for many years, have all created a strong desire on the part of the Executive Committee to make a thorough and careful examination of our leading departments, in order that it might be ascertained how the work is really carried on, as such knowledge must be first obtained before any intelligent attempt can be made to improve our system."
SECTION 1. In General. The expenditures of the city of Boston for many years past have probably been greater than those of any other large city in the country. As early as the year 1849, Mayor Bigelow publicly asserted this fact, and in 1850 repeated the statement, saying that he had reason to believe that there was no other city in the world the affairs of which, in proportion to its size, were administered at so great an expense as ours." Mayor Gaston, in 1871, called attention to the fact that the federal census of 1870 showed that the people of Boston paid larger taxes per capita than those of any other large city in the country. Mayor Prince, in 1879, expressed an opinion to the same effect: and according to the federal census of 1890 Boston led all the large cities of this country in per capita expenditure for schools, libraries, fire protection, street lighting, and works of charity; while the expenditure for police was greater in one other city only. The exact figures are given in the following table, compiled from Census Bulletin No. 82:
EXPENDITURES AND REVENUES.
EXPENDITUTES AND REVENUES.
The current expenses of the city-that is, the money spent annually by the several departments for running expenses, maintenance, and repairs are thus relatively larger than elsewhere. This is due principally to the desire of the people of this city for more and better service from the municipality than is required in other cities; a fact particularly noticeable in everything that relates to water supply, schools, streets, libraries, collection of garbage, public lighting, and similar municipal conveniences. Special reasons for the relatively high rate of expenditure may also be found in the great length of streets compared with the population of the city; in the low water-rates and ferry-tolls established by the authorities in response to popular demand; in the high salaries paid to school teachers, police officers, and firemen ; in the relatively large amount of work done by day labor; in the obligations from year to year imposed upon the city by the Legislature, such as extra sessions of the courts and experimental “drunk laws;" in the insistence by the Legislature on the taxation of municipal bonds; 1 and in its refusal to allow the municipality to obtain a revenue from the corporations using the public streets.
Further reasons for a comparatively large expenditure are to be found in the necessarily excessive cost in this city for a water supply, for drainage facilities, and for widening and straightening out the streets of the city proper. For reasons more fully explained below the expenditures for these purposes have been relatively very heavy. The water-works have cost over $20,000,000, while nearly $40,000,000 has been expended for street widenings and changes of grade, and $20,000,000 more for sewers and improvements connected with the problem of drainage.
If, however, we compare the expenditures of twenty years ago with those of to-day, we do not find any extraordinary
The exemption of our bonds hereafter issued from taxation for municipal or county purposes would save the city from one-fourth to one-half of one per cent. in the rate of interest paid on future loans.
2 See chap. 5, §§ 8 and 10, and chap. 8.
increase. The actual expenditures understanding by that phrase all payments on account of the city of Boston, including county expenses and State tax, except for debt redeemed-were $18,552,612.48 in 1873-4, and $15,388,632.28 in 1874-5; while in 1892-3 they amounted to $21,300,665.04, and in 1893-4 to $21,696,999.35. The average amount expended during the five fiscal years from 1872-3 to 1876-7 was $15,761,661.47, while the present rate of expenditure is between twenty-one and twenty-two millions. The net debt of the city has increased from $27,812,935.23 on December 31, 1874, to $36,493,864.42 on December 31, 1894.
Thus although the expenditures of the city are still large, and probably larger relatively than those of most other cities in the country, it is satisfactory to discover that while the population has increased 46 per cent. in twenty years, the actual expenditures have increased only 36 per cent. and the net debt 31 per cent. ; and that the tax rate has fallen from an average of $14.06 per thousand for the ten years from 1874 to 1884 to an average of $12.96 per thousand for the ten years from 1884 to 1894.
SECTION 2. Current Expenses and Annual Revenues. The large appropriation order of 1884-$10,284,019 for department purposes, or only $281,667 less than the department appropriations for 1894-5 — and the consequent high tax rate, induced the Legislature of 1885 2 to limit the amount of taxation for municipal purposes to nine dollars on the thousand of the average valuations for the preceding five years, less abatements to December 31 preceding. The interest and debt requirements were excepted; and in 1887 3 an additional amount of $425,000 was allowed for county purposes.
This law caused an immediate reduction in the annual appropriation order, and the tax rate fell from $17 in 1884 to $12.80 in 1885 since which time it has fluctuated between
St. 1885, chap. 178.
1 See Appendix, Table 13.
3 St. 1887, chap. 281.