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The Boss

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

The fairest way to judge the costs of government in Jersey City is to compare them with costs in other cities in the United States of approximately the same size. 300,000 to 400,000. There are seven such cities in the United States, and the latest available statistics are those for 1939 from the 1940 Municipal Yearbook.

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It will be noticed that the Jersey City total adjusted tax rate of $48.38 per thousand (1939) was not only the highest among cities of its class, but $15.65 above the second city, Portland, Oregon, and more than double that of the lowest, Seattle. The new rate of $53.13 for 1940 will put Jersey City even farther in the lead. The rate for city purposes was also the highest, $25.06 per thousand, $9.10 above Rochester and 316.46 above Seattle.

There is no city in America with more than 100,000 population that has an adjusted tax rate to equal that of Jersey City; it is the highest-taxed city in America. In 1939, when the adjusted rate in Jersey City was $48.38, the rates in some other large cities were: Boston, $39.90; Chicago, $33.74; Pittsburgh, $28.48; Los Angeles, $27.95; and New York, 27.14. , In this group of municipalities are some that have been governed by unsavory political machines; but no machine has been as expensive as the Hague model, not even the one in Chicago, not even Tammany. Among the cities of its own size the Pendergast machine in Kansas City collected less than half as much for city purposes as the Hague organization, $11.25 to $25.06.

In New Jersey, except in Jersey City, the trend of city tax rates since 1930 has been downward; the average rate for 1939 was 31 per cent lower than 1930. But the rate in Jersey City was 29 per cent higher than in 1930.

Tax rates, however, are significant only in terms of the assessed valuations upon which they apply. A city may have a high rate and a low scale of assessments; or high assessments and a low rate, so that in either case the total tax burden may be low. Jersey City, alone among cities of its size, has its assessments up to 100 per cent of true value; Louisville is second with 85 per cent and Seattle lowest with 40. The 100 per cent assessment in Jersey City is not a matter of mere guesswork upon the part of the compilers of the Municipal Yearbook; in the Quarterly Financial Statistics issued by the comptroller of Jersey City November 30, 1939, the statement was made that assessments are `100 per cent of fair market value.' The New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce in a report issued in 1937 had this to say about assessments in cities in New Jersey: `In the majority of municipalities the assessors attempt to evaluate property at from 70 to 85 per cent of what they consider to be current actual or true value. And sad to say, in some of our not-so-well-governed cities, where "political" assessing runs rife, a lot or building may be assessed at 10 per cent or 150 per cent, depending on how its owner stands in with the powers that be.' (Research Bulletin, no. 102, p. 6.)


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