Municipal finance …lessons from the past.

(Tribune January 2006)

George H. Reece got $8.00 for building a bridge over 15 Mile Creek.

The Township of Pelham spent a lot of money on roads and bridges in 1858. I figure about $113. out of total municipal expenditures of about $473. That’s close to 24%.

Yes, I said 1858, not 1958. That is 147 years ago. At this time of year, when various municipal governments are preparing their budgets, I think some lessons could be learned by reviewing the 1858 Township of Pelham audited financial statement.

The local members of the Township Council received $20 each, multiplied by 5 councilors you get a total yearly cost of $100. Unlike today, they did not get paid until the job was done; the 1857 council stipend was not paid until January 1858. No attendance problems here.

The local council members in 1858 probably took all the blame for high taxes. Pelham Township raised almost $3,900 in taxes, but turned over better than 87% of those taxes to the County and the School Board. If you are ready to take the heat, run for Council; if you want to hide from blame, run for County (Region) or School Board. Some things never change.

Revenue sources in those days were limited. It appears that there were four taverns in the Township and each paid a twenty-dollar license fee. They must not have paid without a fight because Roland McDonald received twenty dollars for "fee as Counsel and attendance at Town Hall on license suits". Litigation was alive and well in the past.

The Township was tough on residents who did not play by the rules. Isaac Lacy was caught auctioneering without a license. Cost to Isaac … a four-dollar fine. William T. Disher tried to get out of working and it cost him a one-dollar fine for non-performance of Statute Labour. It can get expensive if you try to mess with Pelham Council.

There are some hints that the Township was a little slow in paying its bills. It appears Martin Welfley took care of the Town Hall in 1856 and 1857 but was not paid. On January 8, 1858, Martin got $23.28 but in addition to the arrears, that amount included his 1858 fee. Martin was not stupid, he was not going to be caught again. If the Township wanted the Town Hall taken care of in ’58, it was cash in advance!

The job of tax collector must have been a thankless position, having to face the wrath of all those Pelham farmers. It looks like Samuel Beckett did the job in ’57 and he got paid $40.00 the following January. I guess Sam had enough abuse because R.D Casselman took over in ’58. There is no sign of R.D. getting paid, I expect he settled up the following year. I hope he didn’t get the job by cutting the fee.

I mentioned that road and bridge costs accounted for about 24% of the Township expenditures. The balance of 76% was for, you guessed it, administration. Now, that included the $100 for the five members of council. Remember that they took all the abuse from ratepayers, so they probably earned every nickel. Administration also includes those amounts paid to Beckett, Welfley and McDonald outlined above.

John S. Price was the Township Treasurer and, in addition to the dignity of the title, he got ten dollars for the year. Two auditors… two bucks each. A total annual finance department cost that is close to the price of a single pizza today.

The guy who really cleaned up was D. D’Everado, the Township Clerk. Start with $74.00 "clerk for 1857", add $32.00 "for additional services making copies of Rolls", and finish up with $8.00 "selector of Jurors" and $6.45 "account for Stationery and contingencies". Contingencies? Come on D.D., give me a break! How did you get that "contingency" charge through the system? I hope that could not happen these days.

The Treasurer ended up 1858 with a cash balance of $868.37 and on the face of it, that looks like the Township had a surplus. However, seeing how they had a habit of paying the current year’s bills at the beginning of the following year, no one was going to know the real costs until they saw the next statement a year later. Smart politicians always keep those ratepayers guessing.

One final matter. I checked the math and it looks like the audited financial statements are out of balance by thirteen cents.

But hey, what do you expect for the price of a pizza?

Close this window