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The Boss
THE HIGHEST TAXED CITY

By David Dayton McKean
This Web version, edited by GET NJ, COPYRIGHT 2003

A high level of debt and taxes is not necessarily undesirable if the people of a community are receiving either extraordinary services or ordinary services extraordinarily well performed. The Jersey City Medical Center is an example of an extraordinary service; but its maintenance is beyond doubt wasteful and extravagant. The huge police force is another story; it may be necessary to the political organization, but it is not necessary to the citizens. What else does the taxpayer get for his money in Jersey City?

If anyone should wish to see at first hand what the gaslighted streets of the nineties were like, he need only to go to Mayor Hague's own Horseshoe Ward in Jersey City. In other places in the city he can observe the old-fashioned arc lights still in use. Even in their flickering and uncertain light he can see that the streets are littered and dirty. In the Bergen Hill section there will only be old papers and an occasional can or bottle in the streets; in the poorer sections, all sorts of non-combustible and valueless rubbish is scattered about, and even garbage is dumped into the gutters. An automobile driver who does not know which streets to avoid may break a spring or an axle on some of Jersey City's thoroughfares or puncture a tire on some sharp bit of refuse. The cleaning and repair of Jersey City streets costs the taxpayers for 1940 $785,706, more than two dollars per capita; to judge from appearances the sum is about ten times too high.

The condition of the streets is made worse than it would be otherwise by the collection of ashes in open, horse-drawn wagons. Every breeze scatters the ashes over streets and pedestrians. The collection of ashes and garbage is done under a contract annually awarded to Michael Scatuorchio, Democratic leader of the Fifth Ward, who will receive in 1940 $476,700 for these services. This contract, as Mayor Hague testified in the C.I.O. case, is so lucrative that `Mike Scat,' alone among the ward leaders, desires no public job.

Wherever the tax money has gone in Jersey City during the Hague regime, it has not gone into public schools. As far back as 1929 the Case Committee showed that 26.9 per cent of the students in the Jersey City schools could not attend full time because the schools were too crowded to admit them. Jersey City, unique in so many other respects, was unique also in this; no other city in the state approached its record for overcrowded schools. When Mayor Hague was on the stand before the Case Committee Mr. Russell Watson, their counsel, brought out that no schools had been built since 1922, and, in view of their crowded condition he asked the Mayor why there had been no money for building schools during those years. `I presume,' was the answer, `because we did not deem and feel that it was good business; but that we are going along, and the children were being educated sufficiently, and it was not necessary.' (Transcript, p. 1086.) Jersey City is still going along. Except for the A. Harry Moore School for Crippled Children no new public school has been built since 1922; but the school system no longer gives out figures on overcrowding. Old Public School 21, where attempts were made to give Frank Hague an elementary education, remains in use. Some schools still have outdoor toilets.

As the vast expenditures have not gone into schools, neither have they gone into parks and playgrounds. Hudson County has a deficiency of 6313 acres of outdoor recreational areas, using the accepted standard of ten acres for each thousand of population. It is even deficient in school playground space, with about twenty square feet per student, the lowest in the state. (New Jersey State Planning Board, `Where Shall We Play? A Report on the Outdoor Recreational Needs of New Jersey' (1938), pp. 10 and 16.) Up-to-date statistics on the parks of Jersey City are unobtainable, but in 1929, `according to the testimony of Arthur Potterton, it costs Jersey City $7300 per acre per annum for the maintenance of fourteen parks, containing thirty-seven acres of land.' (Case Committee Report, Senate Journal (1929), p. 1105.) Thirty-seven acres for more than three hundred thousand people. In the same way the other normal functions of a city government are provided in Jersey City. Oversupplied with hospital facilities, overpoliced, carrying an enormous public payroll, the citizens find that they lack the ordinary services provided by city governments. But as Mayor Hague once said when he returned from a European tour, `Jersey City has no apologies to make to any European city of its size. In efficiency of administration it compares well with any.'

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