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A brief history of property tax


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A brief history of property tax

  1. 1. COVER STORY A Brief History of Property Tax By Richard Henry Carlson This paper was initially delivered at the IAAO Conference on Assessment Administration in Boston, Massachusetts, on September 1, 2004. Taxation has existed in various forms since civilization Property taxes were used in Egypt, Babylon, Persia, and began. In days of old the source of wealth was land China and throughout the ancient world. Most people and its proceeds. Before the existence of a monetary were poor and lived in hovels. The primary focus of early system, taxes were paid by a percentage of crops raised. property taxation was land and its production value. Through most of history, the tax assessor and the tax col- lector were the same person; therefore, “tax collector” Ancient Egypt had a thriving culture that began around is used interchangeably with “tax assessor” throughout 5,000 B.C. and lasted thousands of years. Taxes were levied the following paper. Some of the most common forms against the value of grain, cattle, oil, beer and land. Ap- of taxation over the millennia were poll taxes, tariffs on proximately one in a hundred people were literate; they goods, and property taxes on the value of land, build- were called scribes. Some of the scribes were tax assessors. ings, and other personal property. The purpose of this They kept records about who owned title to lands along paper is to present some of the major moments in the with the size of their fields. At various times they collected history of real and personal property taxation. Let’s annual or biannual data by counting cattle and checking the take a short walk through time to understand what we crop yields. The most common taxpayers were the farmers, have in common with our ancestor assessors, what we from whom assessors coerced collection. If a taxpayer did can learn from them, and how developed the current not or was not able to pay, he was brought before courts property tax system has come to be. that immediately dispensed justice. A typical tax rate was ten percent of all production. Tax assessors were highly valued people because of their skills with hieroglyphics and their ability to collect revenue. Often when a king died, the as- Ancient Times sessor was the only staff person not killed and buried along The earliest known tax records, dating from approximately with the king, so valued was his service. There were tombs six thousand years B.C., are in the form of clay tablets and monuments for assessors in Egypt and Syria that rivaled found in the ancient city-state of Lagash in modern day those of some kings. In Egypt, the famous Rosetta Stone was Iraq, just northwest of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. actually a tax document granting exemption to priests. The king used a tax system called bala, which meant “rota- tion.” The assessors would focus on one area of the city- state, assessing and taxing one area each month, thereby Be weary of strong drink. It can make you shoot at tax assessors... breaking down the arduous task into more manageable and miss. ~ Robert Heinlein components. (This is a lesson that we have used in pres- ent day Boston by not attempting to focus on all property in a revaluation year. Instead, we focus great attention on Tax assessors were also highly valued officials in ancient the valuation of retail and industrial property during one Greece. Near the Acropolis there is a monument to the year, following up the next year with apartments or other honest tax assessor. The Athenian general Aristides (530 sub-sets of property. This allows a thorough review of the B.C.–468 B.C.) completely reformed the property tax as- various components of value and ultimately leads to better sessment system of Athens while serving as treasurer (i.e., assessments.) In Lagash taxes were very low, but in a time assessor). Known as the most competent and impartial of crisis or war the tax rate was ten percent of all goods, person who ever held the position in Athens, Aristides which were primarily composed of food. acted in the interests of the city above all else. His prestige was so great that be became known as Aristides the Just. You can have a Lord, you can have a King, but the man to fear The good and fair tax system established by Aristides fell is the tax assessor. ~ Anonymous citizen of Lasgash apart during the Peloponnesian War (Sparta vs. Athens, Fair & Equitable • February 2005 3
  2. 2. 431 B.C.–404 B.C.). Athenian citizens When Julius Caesar was preparing for neighbor, he still paid the same in complained that real and personal the Gaulic campaign, one of his gen- property taxes. Economic incentive property taxes were too high and de- erals told him there was not enough and maximum use of the land was at manded that the government lower money to pay for the needed materi- the heart of his taxation policy. The expenditures. The tax assessment als. Caesar’s response was, “Send out tax rate for wealthy farmers became system was also perceived as biased the assessors!” Pothinus once asked Ju- one percent of value per year. and inefficient compared to the ear- lius Caesar, “Is it possible that Caesar, lier standards set by Aristides. The the conqueror of the world, has time Other Roman emperors were far Athenian council decided to reduce to occupy himself with such a trifle less insightful. Tiberius Caesar cut property taxes but increased both as our taxes?” Caesar’s response “My back on public improvements and tariffs and tributes paid by council friend, taxes are the chief business of retained huge portions of tax in his allies. The tribute from each ally was a conqueror of the world.” treasury. This resulted in a financial calculated according to the value of crisis where money was in short supply. property that came under each state. Over time there were other emperors Taxes assessed in Athens and Attica Only little people pay taxes. ~ Leona who implemented disastrous policies (Athens’s territory) were assessed ac- Helmsley that were largely to blame for the col- cording to the value and productivity lapse of the empire. Public expendi- of the land, with the more productive tures increased with more expensive lands receiving higher assessments. Early Roman administrations had entertainment. Entire months of the As the Peloponnesian War dragged tax policies with intended outcomes. year became holidays and public wel- on, the Athenians increased the Prior to Augustus Caesar, the state sold fare systems became very generous. tribute expected from allies to the the rights to collect taxes to private Over time, fewer people produced breaking point. The tribute was citizens. These people would make goods and the tax rates began to soar. doubled and then doubled again. significant profits by enforcing Roman Some emperors wanted to reduce the Ultimately, Athens ran out of money tax law. Today we call such people con- wealthy Senate class and taxed the and lost the war. sultants. Augustus put an end to the value of their estates so high that the practice by making Roman assessors property was confiscated or the own- Alexander the Great (356 B.C. – 323 public employees. In the early years ers were driven away or into hiding. B.C.) conquered the known world. of the Roman Republic, the tax rate The emperors also began to reduce While he was a military genius, he was just one percent of value (land, the silver content of coins. This practi- was also an able administrator. As he buildings and all personal property cally destroyed the economy. In fact, moved through Persia, India, Egypt including plants and animals). The some property owners tried to give and other parts of his world, he left ad- tax rate climbed during war and themselves up as slaves until it was ministrators with explicit instructions crisis to three percent. However, as declared illegal to do so by Emperor on how to implement property taxes. Rome expanded public benefits the Valens (368 A.D.). Eventually the Specifically, he was concerned that budget was stretched. Prior to Julius system so completely broke down there would be revolts in areas that Caesar, over 300,000 people received that there was no longer a monetary were already conquered. When there food from the state. Caesar thought system and trade went back to barter. were, he was brutal in stopping them. that many of these people should be Of course with no ability to pay an Prior to his conquest, the people were working instead of receiving public army, the entire system collapsed and very heavily taxed, and the collected benefits and therefore cut the number the barbarians invaded Rome. It has money typically went to the treasury of of recipients of public welfare in half. been noted that many citizens were the king, not to public improvements. The result was that expenditures went happy to be free of the excessive tax Alexander’s tack was to substantially down, and with more people plowing burdens and could once again pro- cut taxes and use half of the raised fields, the tax revenue increased. duce for themselves. funds for public improvements (wa- ter systems, roads, ports, etc.) while Augustus Caesar was greatly con- In Roman times assessors were keeping the remaining half for his cerned that people were not produc- no longer honored but considered treasury. Therefore, the people not ing at maximum levels and made evil and low class people who often only paid fewer taxes while receiving other adjustments to the system. One required military escort. After being more benefits for their taxes, but they of the more important advances was a criticized by religious leaders for asso- were also far less likely to revolt against reassessment based on flat land rates. ciating with tax assessors in Jerusalem, his administrators. He implemented a valuation system Jesus Christ said, “The tax assessors From roughly 200 B.C. to 300 A.D., based not on what a farmer produced and prostitutes are entering the king- Romans paid property taxes on the val- but what a farmer could produce. If a dom of God ahead of you.” Christ also ue of land, buildings, livestock, trees, farmer worked hard and produced said, “Render unto Caesar the things vines and other personal property. more crops than a less productive that are Caesar’s, and render unto 4 Fair & Equitable • February 2005
  3. 3. God the things that are God’s.” The After abusing his power and rais- hearth cruck house (typical peasant apostle Matthew was a tax assessor. ing taxes to a confiscatory level in housing) received a low assessment 1215, King John was forced to sign compared to some mansions that Medieval Times the Magna Carta, which limited the had twenty or thirty heated rooms. king’s power to raise revenue. Taxes This tax was hated and was eventually from this point on could be collected phased out. It is the part of the good Shepherd to shear only with the common consent of his flock, not slay it. ~ Tiberius Caesar his barons. By the sixteenth century, the king’s own lands and estates were The power of taxing people and their taxed. In 1689, the English Bill of property is essential to the very existence of In the 11th century, Lady Godiva rode Rights endorsed a law that the king government. ~ James Madison naked on a white horse through the could not tax without Parliament’s streets of Coventry, England to protest consent. the tax assessment on her husband’s property. He received an abatement. After 1290, personal property taxes In the legend of Robin Hood, the Although poll taxes were prevalent were implemented with exemptions Sheriff of Nottingham collected taxes. in England, land taxes had existed for the poorest (i.e., those whose as- The role originated in the tenth cen- for hundreds of years, and although sessments were less than a shilling). tury when each “shire” had a “reeve.” the lords and king owned land, most The church was also exempt, as were The shire or sheriff was the most peasants paid taxes by way of rent each certain items such as a knight’s armor important local government official, Table. Figures from Boston assessor records from 1691, 1791, 1891 and today. 1691 1791 1891 Today Population 5,996 18,038 448,477 589,141 Total value 20,000 pounds 538,200 pounds $855.1 million $66.1 billion Levy 200 pounds 8,000 pounds $10.8 million $1.1 billion Res. Rate 1 penny per pound $14.86 $12.60 $10.15 or $10 per thousand year. If the land was especially produc- and a merchant’s capital. The person- and his responsibilities included law tive, the rental value was higher. In the al property tax rate was one-tenth for enforcement, tax assessing and collec- tenth, eleventh and twelfth centuries those who resided in cities and one- tion. This position was brought over an average peasant paid one tenth (a fifteenth for rural residents. These to the colonies. tithe) of the value of crops to the lord assessments were rough estimates of who then passed on a percentage to a person’s assets, and underassess- Colonial Period the king. Peasants were also required ment was the norm. The average tax In 1620 the Pilgrims landed at Plym- to give either an additional one-tenth equaled about two shillings per an- outh Massachusetts and began build- of their crop to the church or spend num, which was about two days’ wages ing. After receiving a bundle of arrows one tenth of their labor working for for a peasant. wrapped in snakeskin—which was the church. The personal property tax was dif- interpreted as a threat from local Indi- After 1066, William the Conqueror ficult to administer because many ans—they decided to build a fort. The created an early form of land taxation. people attempted to hide and move 102 Pilgrims formed a pact that bound Town officials kept cadastral records personal property. This practice was them to a set of laws, among them of everyone who owned property. especially common among wealthier the creation of taxes and assessments. Each parcel was measured, its value taxpayers who had multiple residences People were generally allocated equal estimated. Each town kept a book and moved assets to avoid taxation. portions of land, but the more produc- of the assessment of each property tive land was assessed at a higher rate. and the total amount of property tax From 1662 to 1689, a hearth tax was due for each person. This book was administered in England and spread In Boston, the Puritans imple- called the Domesday Book, and the to some continental counties. The tax mented property taxes to pay for the name lasted for hundreds of years. was an estimate of a building’s value. church and the religious education Some people in England refer to the Assessors recorded the number and of their children. Regardless of one’s assessor’s records as the Doomsday size of hearths in each home and religion, it was mandatory that every- Book even to this day. determined value accordingly. A one- one pay the property tax. Taxes from Fair & Equitable • February 2005 5
  4. 4. Boston’s towns went directly to the When determining the tax bill for a the tax system was more dependent on church. This practice lasted for over widow with twelve children, for ex- poll taxes) by state quotas.This system one hundred years. ample, the council voted to not only did not work well; in fact, states did exempt her from property taxes but not meet their quotas. As a result the So who exactly was the assessor at grant her a certain number of shil- Continental Congress spent far more this time? In Boston up until 1733, the lings quarterly out of the general tax cash than it had; the money was bor- sheriff was the ex-officio tax assessor fund. Conversely, a Mr. Phillips, who rowed and not paid off until 1834. and collector. Property taxes paid for ran over three light posts while riding the expenses of the community—a drunk down Tremont St. on a horse sharp contrast to the English stamp and wagon, was called before the But in this world nothing is certain but act and tea tax that were designed council and told he would not only death and taxes. ~ Benjamin Franklin to pay for the cost of security in the be required to pay his property tax bill New World. but also the cost of repairs. During the debate for the U.S. con- The Boston Town Records of 1676 There was a general property tax stitution, delegates grappled with the show the name of each taxpayer, the assessing the value of land, buildings, revenue issue. Advocates pushed for number of acres of land, the value of animals and all personal property. a national property tax, but because houses, the number of cows, swine The assessors had accurate records of the interest of the large estates of and sheep, the value of mills and as to ownership, number and types the southerners, no agreement could the assessment of personal estate. of animals and all personal property be reached. The tax clause in the The assessors kept maps that were including intangible assets. At an early constitution (the same clause that numbered. Each number had cor- town meeting, voters directed the apportions representatives) states responding narratives listing assets, town council to publish and distrib- that all direct taxes (as opposed to value and tax. Detailed and propor- ute a complete list of all taxpayers indirect taxes like tariffs) should be tionate maps showed the metes and together with the amount and base apportioned among the states accord- bounds of property. Assessors used of their taxes. For years there had ing to population.Ultimately, the pri- maps of various scale. By 1822, Boston been rumblings of inequitable assess- mary sources of federal government assessing records broke down real and ments, abatement irregularities, and revenue for the Civil War were tariffs personal property value along with the residency fraud (i.e., moving assets and sales of public land. calculated taxes for each taxpayer. to another town when the assessors were coming). There were attempts to implement In Boston, the expenses of local gov- national taxes with quotas appor- Note in the table that the tax rate ernment were low. There were watch- tioned among the states by popula- is lower today, but the assessments men at night, a multi-tasking sheriff, tion. There were two primary camps are probably closer to market value. expenses for common defense, public after the revolution: the Alexander It has been common throughout his- infrastructure and education. In fact, Hamilton camp that thought there tory that property is underassessed Boston had the first public school, should be a larger central government compared to market value. In the Me- Boston Latin, established in 1635. The with greater revenue raising capacity morial History of Boston it is stated that town council met every year at a public and the Jefferson camp that thought property is worth approximately five hearing and discussed taxes and ex- revenue should be raised locally be- times its assessed value. The theme of penses. Citizens’ particular situations cause it more suits a democracy. The underassessment has repeated itself were also discussed. The grievances of first camp also argued that the country throughout the history of assessing people who were held responsible for should push for industrial develop- property values. municipal expenses beyond the norm ment, while the latter pushed for a were considered. As for the rest of the northern colo- more agrarian society to foster inde- nies, similar systems were in place, but pendence and democracy. Hamilton the Southern colonies had already was the first Secretary of the Treasury The art of taxation consists in so plucking established that property taxes were of the United States. He was a finan- the goose as to get the most feathers with the not in the interest of the wealthy cial genius for the country, helping least hissing. ~ Jean Baptiste Colbert classes who owned large estates and create the foundation of the capitalist significant personal property.The system that we have here today; how- An examination of a two hundred south opted for a greater focus on ever, the issue of taxation turned into year old record of a town council poll taxes. a disaster for him and his party. meeting in Boston shows that each property assessment and bill laid out Early United States The Washington and Adams before the council required calling During the Revolution, the colonies Administrations attempted to imple- upon certain individuals who may agreed to raise taxes (mostly through ment various national taxes that cre- have been sick, aged or in poverty. property, except in the south where ated rebellions such as the Whiskey 6 Fair & Equitable • February 2005
  5. 5. Rebellion and the Fries Rebellion. the end, the rebellion was put down Before becoming U.S. President, In 1797, John Adams was greatly by Federal troops. There were death Abraham Lincoln was a general attor- concerned that war with France was sentences issued, but they were com- ney, whose responsibilities included imminent. He required revenue to muted. trying murder cases, preparing estates pay for a force to resist the French. and wills, and even representing prop- Congress enacted a national property erty taxpayers in the Illinois courts. tax apportioned by population. Two Death and taxes may be inevitable, but they Yes, Lincoln was a actually a property million dollars was to be raised with shouldn’t be related. ~ J. C. Watts, Jr. tax attorney: a tax rep. There were Pennsylvania’s share at $237,000. The three famous cases that he tried: tax became known as the window tax because assessors were to assess real es- Throughout the nineteenth cen- 1. The owner of a ferryboat moved his tate according to the number and size tury, most state and local governments boat out of its assessing jurisdiction of windows and doors of each house raised their revenue through the prop- on the lien date. The assessor taxed in addition to a land tax. The German erty tax, though the south continued the boat at a normal assessment and settlers of Pennsylvania were outraged extensive use of poll taxes with some Lincoln appealed the case in court, because it reminded them of the much property taxes. Most state constitutions arguing that the boat was not in the hated hearth tax in Germany. John required uniformity of taxation. The jurisdiction of the assessor on the Fries became the leader of the tax administration of taxes came primarily lien date. He won the case. protesters. Small bands were formed to through the sheriff’s office where the search for federal assessors who were sheriff continued to be law enforcer, 2. Another case was a valuation issue coming to count and measure windows. tax assessor and collector. One finds for The Illinois Central Railroad. These bands intimidated, beat up and that the more rural and further west The railroad was under construc- ran assessors off to the county line. In you went in the United States, the more tion and approximately half com- one case three assessors were captured recent the separation of law enforce- plete on the lien date. Lincoln and brought to Enoch Roberts Tavern ment and financial responsibilities. contended that the property was and held for some time. Their papers Most of the western and rural states assessed as though the work was were destroyed. The sheriff went with did not separate the role of sheriff completed, but that the assessment thirteen or fourteen men to the Inn from that of financial officer until the should have reflected its true value to arrest the responsible parties. He late 1800’s. as half constructed. He won this captured nineteen men and held them case for the biggest legal fee of his Wyatt Earp moved to Tombstone life: $5,000. at the Inn when a party of 400 men Arizona in the late 1870’s. He was the came to try to rescue prisoners. John most famous lawman in the country, 3. He tried another railroad case on Fries negotiated the release of the as- but he retired and went to Arizona an exemption issue and won that sessors’ kidnappers. The sheriff sent to make his fortune. Once there, he case also. word to President Adams, who rallied became engaged in town politics. His troops to arrest the parties involved. brother Virgil became chief of police John Fries was captured and convicted to help protect the brothers’ financial Twentieth Century of various charges including hinder- By the end of the 1900’s, it was widely interests. Wyatt signed on as deputy ing assessors in their duties. He was felt that the tax system in the United sheriff to supplement his income as sentenced to death. There was much States could not equitably tax the com- owner of a gambling concession in consternation regarding his sentence, plicated economy. There were various a saloon. While it is well known that and the governor was pressured to reform movements to implement the shoot-out at the OK corral took repeal the sentence and release him. sales and income taxes and reduce place in 1881, few people know that At the last minute Fries was pardoned reliance on property taxes. Part of Wyatt ran for the office of sheriff. In due to irregularies at the trial. The tax this reform effort intended to narrow Tombstone, as elsewhere in the rural was repealed. personal property taxes especially for west, the sheriff was both law enforce- Another early rebellion took place ment officer and tax assessor/collec- homeowners and intangible assets. in Massachusetts resulting from exces- tor, as was Wyatt Earp’s opponent, Presidents Cleveland, McKinley, T. sive property taxes and court rulings incumbent Sheriff Johnny Behan. Roosevelt, Wilson and others began on farmers’ debts. Daniel Shays, a Compared to Behan, who might be to push for lower property taxes and former Revolutionary War captain, led called a cowboy Democrat by modern the implementation of sales and the armed rebellion. His group took standards, the Earp brothers were income taxes. State by state things over a courthouse and demanded urbanized Republicans. Due in part changed, and by 1913 the sixteenth lower property taxes along with more to the financial officer’s unchecked amendment was passed allowing for protection for farmers from foreclo- power in Tombstone, Wyatt Earp was direct taxes without apportionment sure and “sound money” polices. In unable to defeat Behan. and income taxes. Fair & Equitable • February 2005 7
  6. 6. By the time of the Great Depression, Some of the major tax reforms of • increased state income and sales people’s incomes began to drop. With the first half of the century: taxes for revenue sharing in 1975. so many unemployed, the property Property taxes still did not decline tax collection rates dropped. The re- • Narrowly defined personal prop- erty taxes on citizens and almost and during the same time period, Mas- sult was fiscal reform throughout the sachusetts courts made the following country. Many states began to imple- complete elimination of intangible property taxation; decisions: ment sales taxes and cut property taxes. This is the period during which • Creation of various exemptions • Springfield mandated 100% valua- many homestead exemptions were for sick, aged, poor, farms, home- tion in 1961. created. In 1932 and 1933, sixteen steads; • Sudbury mandated the predecessor states also implemented property tax • Creation of circuit breakers were of the Department of Revenue to limitation laws. to limit the percentage of one’s enforce 100% standard in 1974. income going to property tax; • The classification amendment en- What is the difference between a taxidermist • Creation of property tax limitations abled cities and towns to tax com- and a tax assessor? A taxidermist takes in a large number of states. mercial, industrial and personal only your skin. ~ Mark Twain property at a higher rate than resi- After World War II, the economy dential property to avoid a massive grew at significant rates along with tax shift. Two other reasons for such major people’s incomes and total property tax collections. However, property • The Tregor decision cost Boston reform were the institution of pro- taxes as a percentage of total revenue tens of millions of dollars in abate- hibition and the booming 1920’s began to drop. More notably, as a ments when it lost a disproportion- economy. Alcohol tax revenues from source of state revenue, property ate assessing case. licenses and taxes (formerly a major source of revenue) declined to noth- taxes were supplanted by sales and Finally on November 4, 1978, Prop- ing for cities, states, and the federal income taxes. Even at the local level, osition 2½ passed, severely limiting government. This loss combined with property taxes as a percentage of total the amount and growth of property added expenses on enforcing the new tax revenue declined as cities began taxes. law. Personal incomes, meanwhile, adopting sales and income taxes. In The past thirty years have led to ad- were rising, and property taxes didn’t 1927, property taxes accounted for vances in assessing practices through seem overwhelmingly burdensome. 97.3% of total local tax revenue; today the use of statistics, cadastral maps, the total is less than 75%. advances in technology and various Income taxes, which had stayed low and affected few people until World refinements of old ideas. War II, nearly doubled as a percentage The wisdom of man never yet contrived a of one’s income from 11.6% in 1929 to system of taxation that would operate with Conclusion 21.1% in 1932. On the local level, prop- perfect equality. ~ Andrew Jackson erty taxes doubled from 5.4% of people’s Gross inequalities may not be ignored for income in 1929 to 11.7% in 1932. The the sake of ease of tax collection. ~ Owen tax delinquency rate rose to over 30%. During the 1970’s, states that had J. Roberts The rate in some areas, especially rural not implemented property tax limits communities, was much higher. came under increasing pressure from In 1933, prohibition ended, greatly referendum votes and court cases. On Since the beginning of civilization increasing revenue at all govern- June 7, 1978, Proposition 13 passed property taxes have been a major mental levels. In 1932, the federal in California, limiting the assessment source of revenue for most govern- government collected no liquor tax to current value plus 2% per year. ments. Oliver Wendell Holmes said revenue. In 1934, $259 million was When the property sold or was newly “Taxes are what we pay for a civilized collected, and in 1939, $624 million constructed, the assessment process society.” There have been good taxa- was collected. The tax rate was 100%. began again with the new sale price. tion policies created by admirable as- Despite the high tax, prices of alcohol Massachusetts after years of taxpay- sessors like Aristides the Just and came down significantly. ers’ complaints and failed attempts to disastrous ones invented by corrupt lower property taxes: leaders such as the latter Roman em- Hundreds of taxpayer groups perors. While modern assessors are formed across the country to address • implemented state sales tax and mandated to develop more fair and and demand real tax reform. In 1934, distributed revenue to cities and accurate assessments than most of our the National Association of Assessing towns in 1967; predecessors, the pressure to have a Officers was created and eventually • implemented a state lottery to dis- fair tax system has always existed. It is become the International Association tribute revenue to relieve property not enough to have an equitable tax of Assessing Officers. tax pressure in 1971; system; the taxpayers need to under- 8 Fair & Equitable • February 2005
  7. 7. stand that they are paying their fair Centre for Research/ English History, Tax Analysts: Tax Quotes, http://www. share. The tools at our disposal, com- bined with advances in methodology Dues and Duties in Ancient Egypt, http:// Tax collectors and prostitutes!, http:// and the lessons of the past have put us in a more favorable position to make tion.htm. Tax Collectors and Sinners, http://www. intelligent decisions. Our everyday de- EH.Net Encyclopedia, http://www. cisions have significant consequences Tax History, on residential and commercial taxpay- Hearth Tax, http://www.lynherparishes. lib/documents/resources/tax99/taxhis- ers. We need to have a balanced view tory.shtml. that considers our obligations to both the taxpayers and their jurisdictions. Hendry, Tax Humor, eralinfo/history3.asp. mor/speakerhumor/taxes.htm. People make the difference in mak- ing the system better or worse. Those HGS: Hearth Tax, http://www.horlacher. Tax Quotes – Tax Gaga, http://www.taxga- people are us. It is up to us to think, org/England.hearth.htm. work hard, be prospective, anticipate html. History Facts, http://treasurer.maricopa. problems, and come up with creative gov/history.html. Tax Quotes, solutions to those problems. The best quotes.htm. History of the Office of Sheriff, http:// means to develop an understand- Tax Quotes, http://www.quotegarden. ing of improvements in assessing is icl/sheriff/. com/taxes.html. to pursue education. Take classes John Fries Rebellion, http://www.james- Theodore Ayrault Dodge. Alexander. Da through the IAAO and other appraisal Capo Press, April 2004. and assessing groups. Learn from each other when opportunities such Jokes for the week, http://www.5010geary. Think Tank: “History of Taxes”, http:// com/frisco/jokes.htm. as conferences present themselves. html. Most importantly, perhaps, learn and Kagan, Donald. The Peloponnesian War. prioritize the responsibilities within New York: Viking, 2003. Thornton, Mark and Chetley Weise. “The your own jobs. You may come up with Great Depression Tax Revolts Revisited.” Lagash, Journal of Libertarian Studies. Vol 15 no. 3, answers to complicated issues if you encyclopedia/Lagash. pp. 95-105, 2001. try. Strive to become the modern day Land Use in Central Boston, Boston Public Town of Boston Council Meeting Minutes. Aristides. ■ Library cat. no. F73.3, .F5. 1691, 1791. LCSO History, U.S. Treasury, No government can exist without taxation. sheriff/. education/fact-sheets/taxes/ustax.html. This money must necessarily be levied on Lifestyle of Medieval Peasants, http:// the people; and the grand art consists of levying so as not to oppress. ~ Frederick Richard Henry Carlson has been the Di- Medieval English urban history, http:// the Great rector of Valuation for the City of Boston html. Assessing Department for eleven years, helping to develop the most accurate real es- References Memorial History of Boston, The, 1630-1880, Vol.3, Ed. Justin Winsor, Boston, 1882. tate assessments in the city’s history as mea- Adams, Charles. Those Dirty Rotten Taxes. sured by descriptive statistics and the lowest New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, MSN Encarta – Taxation, http://Encarta. number of taxpayer complaints in twenty 1998. years. Richard has formulated multiple Antique View of the Towne of Boston, Boston Report of the Record Commissioners, Contain- linear regression equations for valuation of Public Library cat. no. F73.37, S7, 1882. ing Miscellaneous Papers, A. Boston, MA: residential properties and has implemented Aristides the Just, http://www.e-classics. Rockwell and Churchill, City Printers, new valuation techniques including the com/aristides.htm. 1886. use of geographic information systems. Shays’ Rebellion, hrrp://www.shaysnet. He has worked to resolve thousands of BCSO History, appeals at the Massachusetts Appellate bcso_history.htm. com/dshays.html. Tax Board and has been actively involved Bible Study – Taxes, http://www.keyway. Sheriff History, http://www.kentoncounty. in the development and implementation ca/htm2002/20020623.htm. org/ of tax policy as well as the valuation of Brownlee, Elliot. Federal Taxation in Ameri- SJSO History, all commercial, industrial and personal ca. Cambridge, MA: Wilson, 2004. property assessments in Boston. A member Subsidies and other taxes, of both IAAO and MAAO, Richard has a Burke County Sheriff’s Office, http:// Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Massachusetts at Boston with majors in Caesar, Julius. The Gallic Wars. Oxford Taka Reforms, http://inin.essortment. Political Science and Economics. World’s Classics, 1996 com/taikareforms_rrtu.htm. Fair & Equitable • February 2005 9
  8. 8. Feature Article A Man of Many Hats: Richard Henry Carlson Using my knowledge of history sheriff, given that he was also a tax as- One of the highlights of this year’s and my eighteen years of experience sessor. As my chronological presenta- Annual IAAO Conference on As- in Boston’s Assessing Department to tion continued, I changed hats, wear- sessment Administration was Rich- compliment my research, I detailed ing a Roman emperor’s laurel, then a ard Henry Carlson’s animated pre- the impact of property taxes over the proud pilgrim’s hat followed by a co- sentation on the History of Property course of history, from the system lonial tricorn hat and a 1930s fedora. Tax. Richard recalls the event and of high property taxation under the Hopefully, the costume changes not describes how he came to be an as- later Roman emperors through the only informed but entertained in a sessor of so many hats. failed attempts at implement- pointed fashion. I thoroughly enjoyed ing a national property tax presenting the paper and The IAAO Conference after our Revolutionary War. was most in Boston last year Not only did I stress how grateful provided me with much has changed since for the the unique then, but I illustrated keen opportunity how many similar policy atten- to present a issues have populated tivness history of prop- of my erty taxes to fellow fellow professionals. asses- Having long been sors. a student of Ancient, Euro- A very special thanks pean, and American History, I have to Commissioner Rakow conducted extensive research on and the IAAO Education property taxes in Boston, and have Committee for allowing sifted through old tax records from me to share my passion and the 17th through the 20th knowledge of the history of centuries. In the pro- property taxes. I hope my cess, I’ve become presentation enlightened familiar with all to the historical record the proceed- as well as the value of ings of colo- our assess- nial town ing tasks meetings the historical landscape for thousands and pro- and have of years, considering both macro and fession. assembled micro policy issues—those of the state Indeed tax rates, values and and nation and those of the average our work levies from 1691, 1791, taxpayer. is of great 1891, analyzing them and comparing With a flair for the dramatic, I dis- value. them to those of 1991. coursed and dressed as a 19th century Photos: courtesy of Richard Henry Carlson. Above: Richard and some of his many hats: a Roman laurel, a 16th century Pilgrim hat, an 18th century tricorn hat, and a 19th century sheriff hat. Left and Right: Some of the 17th Century assessors’ maps Richard studied in preparing his presen- tation. 10 Fair & Equitable • February 2005