Thursday, September 13, 2012

Avoid the Rush—Pay Now

In the land of the free, with free public services available to all, someone has to pay the bill. Taxes have been a point of contention, though, ever since…well, ever since we became a nation.

I’m not sure how Agnes Tully Stevens felt about seeing her family’s hard-earned dollars going to taxes in Chicago, but I do know she considered it important enough to keep her father’s tax receipts in her file up until the last day of her life.

It’s been interesting going through the ledger of John Tully’s tax receipts. As seems to have been the family’s habit, the book included some extra documents stashed between the pages of the ledger—including a post card addressed to John “Sirlry” and dated January 18, 1908, nearly a year after his passing. The post card warned, “Bring this card with you.” And advised, “Avoid the rush by paying now.” Hurry, hurry.

The ledger, labeled Tax Receipts, and embellished with John Tully’s name and address, began with the entry for April 23, 1889. For his assessment authorized by the School Trustees, he paid his installment in the amount of eight dollars and forty four cents. Entries on subsequent pages seemed to indicate bi-annual payments due in April and June. Occasionally the receipt read July. Sometimes there was an entry that read, “Interest at three per cent.”

The payment amount didn’t remain the same. It gradually went up—isn’t that always the case?—until that eight dollars turned into thirty five, thirty six, thirty eight. The last entry was dated July 11, 1902.

After several blank pages in the ledger, though, the County Collector’s Office took up the litany once again. This time, the pages were labeled “Special Assessment Receipt.” Thirty eight dollars out of a policeman’s pay for 1902 must not have been enough. Though always labeled as an assessment on the same property, these latter amounts seemed to equal those of the entries at the front of the book. They seemed always to be paid at about the same time, too.

Perhaps, as the amounts escalated over the years, someone conceived of the brilliant idea of consoling the weary taxpayer with a reporting of how far the money had to be stretched. Perhaps thanks for this ingenious idea can be rightly credited to the rivalry between the tax-hungry entities of city and county, for the report provided to the taxpayer was labeled, “City of Chicago Distribution of One Dollar of 1917 Taxes to the Various Taxing Bodies.” Figuring prominently just beneath the chart of allocations was the observation, “City gets only 17¼ cents.”

Oh, the poor little city of Chicago. Maybe someday, things will get better for them and it won’t seem so bad.


  1. I don't even want to get into this topic.

    I write "legalized thievery" in the comment section on the check I pay my property taxes with... no one has ever done anything with the check except cash it ASAP.

    I have no children - am single - will never have children - and yet I have to pay for other folks to send them to schools where they aren't taught anything useful? Totally unfair taxing mechanism.

  2. I found this really interesting being a land owner and paying property taxes in Louisiana.
    That was a lot of money back then! Things haven't changed much, have they?


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