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Feb 20, 2003 to Feb 6, 2013

Brattleboro Annual Expenses Rise to $7,000 a Year

I was updating our Day in History listings and came across something that might astound and amaze you.

In 1875, according to the Vermont Phoenix, Brattleboro's total expenses for the year were estimated at about $7,000. To compare, in 2015 our expenses are projected to be just under $17 million.

To be fair, they had just added a major expense to the Brattleboro budget in 1875 - streetlights, at a cost of $1,000 per year. Without them, the amount spent would have been lower.

Residents at the time voted to lay a tax of 40 cents on the dollar of the grand list to cover the cost of running the town.


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A bit more about that village meeting

Here's the link to the report on that three hour village meeting.

500 people turned out for the meeting. The main topic was the election of a bailiff and a chief engineer for the Fire Department.

The Fire Department noted that the town had an inadequate water supply for fighting fires. A committee was set up to look into the situation. Fire Department expenses for the year were $2,103.15.

The 40 cents on the dollar tax was to be paid on or before January 1.

Also in the news that day, in Wardsboro, the town voted "to raise 70 per cent on the grand list of the town," F.R. Cobb opened a singing school in Putney,


Forty cents on the dollar?

Am I understanding that correction: For each dollar of assessed value on a property, the annual tax would be $.40? At that rate, the tax on a particular property would equal the total value of that property every two and a half years. Could that possibly be the case?


I know...

It is indeed the case. I went back to get the link to the story to be certain I had it right.

The way I figure it is that:

- fewer, wealthier people owned homes and paid for most town improvements
- homes cost much less, so a mansion might be valued at $2,000
- the rich were rich enough to absorb the tax without much bother
- they probably changed these rates each year depending on circumstances (see Wardsboro - 70 per cent)
- people were more inclined to share the wealth and help make the town better for all?

Any other guesses?


And, you are sure its not the mill rate ?

Just checking. A lot of New England towns used the mill rate, instead of percent.

It's just hard to imagine 40 cents on the dollar, though I think the alternatives you thought up make good sense.


It is amazing

I'm just quoting the old newspaper. It said 40 cents on the dollar for the grand list. The link is up there in the first comment if you'd like to take a look. I double checked their wording.

I'm imagining fewer but wealthier homeowners taking the lead on this. Take Mr. Jacob Estey for example. He lived in a rather modest home on Canal Street in walking distance to his factory. He also owned a factory selling organs around the world. Perhaps 40 cents on the dollar for his home - perhaps worth $1000 or so? - was small change compared to his other income.

Or maybe people just had more of a spirit of contributing to their community?

Less other stuff to spend money on? (No car payments or insurance, food was cheap, wood for heating was plentiful.)



Streetlights, I would guess, would have been gas lamps. I don't believe electrification began until the late 80's.
40 cents would have probably been on 100 dollars, not one. Even today the value of a Grand List is often expressed in 100's. Still it would have been a big bite. I believe house assessments used to run two to six thousand in those days. The assessments didn't change regularly then, either. I'm guessing they only changed when a house was sold.
There was also a much higher amount of commercial property. The town was full of industry, factories and shops. Not a lot of stuff was imported from China. Houses were built from lumber milled here. Slate roofs were a local resource. Furniture was built here. Food was grown here. Much clothing and textiles were local. Not just Bratt but within the Northeast.
In fact, you'd have to check to make sure there was a tax on residential property at all back then.


Calculating for inflation

Assuming a 3% inflation rate from 1875 to 1913, the first year I can find CPI data, then the town expenses in 1913 would have been a little over $22,000.
And.. the 100 years from 1913 to 2013. Using the government CPI Inflation calculator $22,000 would have the same buying power as $523,000 today.
So what have we changed that our expenses are running over 30 times more now?
Maybe the 3% original inflation assumption is incorrect, but working it backwards, todays budget in 1913 $ would be over $700,000. Now that would have been astounding.


Here's 1923 fo ya… 47 cents on the dollar

Town services in 1875 were limited - fire protection, some streetlights, a bit of policing. Hardly any staff or buildings, no parks and recreation, no We were slim and trim.

I can help you with some numbers from the 1920's…. I have a town booklet here with me that describes 1923.

1923 expenses totalled $45,020. Here's how they spent it:

Streetlights - $8,200
Sewers - 1,200
Salaries - 879
Police - 6,000
Street watering, two thirds by property owners - 5,200
Misc - 3,500
Garbage collection - 1,200
Fire Dept. 18,000
Interest - 850.

For resources they listed:

Income from street sprinkling - $4,000
Income from licenses - 800
Collection from sewer assessments - 600
Water Cure Property - 1,200
Back taxes which will be collected - 1,600
From State of Vermont for dust laying - 300

Total resources - $8,500

There was also about $40 of bank balance liability, and $14,000 was owed for the purchase of the Water Cure property.

Our assets were listed as Central Fire Station, Police Station, Water Cure property, and Sewer system.

Highest salary was $300, for the tax collector. Salary totals came to just under $900. (No town manager, no secretaries, but there were two auditors , a treasurer, and three commissioners.)

"The commissioners recommend a tax of forty-seven cents on a dollar of the grand list." says the 1923 Commissioners' Financial Report.


Converted for 2014

Anyone care to do the math and see what our taxes would be if we only had our 1923 town services in place today? How much would we save?


Converted for 2013

According to this site, $45,020 US Dollars of 1923 are worth $612,674.79 US Dollars of 2013.


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