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The Golden age. (Atlanta, Ga.) 1906-1915, March 01, 1906, Page 2, Image 2

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2 IN THE DA YS OF THE 7 AXING R. COUPPON had just left our office af ter a somewhat stormy interview. He had objected to every assessment, as- M firming with great emphasis that he couldn’t get half what our figures called V sor ’ if he were obliged to offer the prop erty in the open market. Os course we couldn’t reduce anything. We had already as sessed most of his property at about two-thirds of its actual value, whereas the law allowed us to figure on a one hundred per cent basis. As for his personal returns, it was like fishing ducats out of a well. I had no idea, until I saw Mr. Couppon’s affidavit, that he was such a poor man. Os ready money he solemnly swore that he had but one hundred dollars to his name, and he insisted that the total value of all his household furniture and jewelry, including his wife’s dia monds—which, it seems, must be paste, after all— amounted to just two hundred and fifty dollars. His bonds and stocks, it appears, are a myth. He deposed and said, with all proper solemnity that he possessed not one dollar of stock in any corpora tion (except “a little non-taxable stock,” to which he owned up. verbally, upon being questioned) and of bonds not a single one! Mr. Couppon had made a stubborn resistance, and I felt somewhat fatigued. It was during my first year as tax assessor. I had yet to learn that the biggest gold bug makes the loudest buzzing when you try to capture him. While T was sitting idle at my desk, trying to recover my equilibrium, the door opened and ad mitted a venerable gentleman in a long gray over coat, his ears protected by a silk muffler. “Good morning, Doctor Weld,” I said, rising to meet him with genuine cordiality. “Have a seat by the fire, sir. Let me have your cane.” Through the half open door of the next room I noticed two of the clerks smiling. I did not understand at the it was my first year. .Doctor weld had come to give in his tax returns. He was a retired minister, and through long years of prudent saving, had accumulated a modest for tune. * * Concerning the real estate assessments he made no remark, except to say that he was satisfied with our valuations. “How much ready money have you, in your own hand or in the hands of others?” He produced a pencil memorandum from which .he read the figures, “161.25.” I smiled at his exactness, and was about to put down the amount. “Wait, wait!” he cried. “That was simply my bank balance. I have also two twenty-dollar gold pieces—that makes forty dollars more—and . . . let me see . . . . ” He emptied the contents of his purse in his lap. After more figuring he an nounced the result. “Two hundred and eighteen dollars and five cents. You may put that down. I owe you an apology for not making this out before I came here. ” I assured him that he need make no excuses; that my time was bis. “Now, about my furniture. I have four beds, Which cost me sixty-five dollars each. But that was forty years ago. Do you think a hundred dollars would be a fair valuation for those three beds?” “Why, er, yes, Doctor Weld; I should think so. Unless they are solid mahogany beds, I wouldn’t put them down for more than SIO.OO a piece.” “They are very good beds,” he mused, “but T guess fifty dollars would about cover them. I’ve been returning them at a hundred dollars, though. . . . Now, I have a bureau which, I think, is worth about ten dollars. My wife’s bureau I put down at fif teen. The piano cost us eight hundred dollars; but that was thirty years ago. I should say that two hundred dollars would be about right for the piano. The parlor chairs—” The Golden Age for March 1, 1906. B y William Hurd Hi 11 ye r “You needn’t trouble to list them, doctor; just estimate what you think it’s all worth in a lump sum. It’s not necessary to be accurate.” “Very well. then. But I wanted to have a rough basis of calculation. If I’m to swear to this, I think I ought to come as near to the true value as I can.” “'Suppose I put down the household furniture at five hundred dollars,” I suggested; for I hadn’t the heart to let him return his things at what he thought they were worth, rather than what they would bring at forced sale. “Why, no, that wouldn't do. The piano alone—” I was on the point of saying, “Why, Dr. Weld, that piano wouldn’t fetch twenty dollars!” but I restrained myself. Instead, I endeavored to explain that the basis of taxation was not what the owner held an article at, but what it was worth in the open market. I knew I was flying in the face of all tax gathering tradition, but I couldn’t help it. By the time Dr. Weld and I had finished our cal culations, the dusk was coming on, and it was almost time to close the office. As he took his departure he grasped my hand with more than his usual kind liness and I could see that from mere acquaintances we had become friends. Strange experience for a tax assessor! ** * My library mantel has two tall oak columns on either side of it. The mantel makes no pretense to splendor, but I have often admired those columns. My wife says they are hideous, and last night, as I threw my cigar into the fire and settled back into my easy-chair, we renewed hostilities concerning them in a manner that proved, if proof were needed, the deep domestic tranquility which underlay these trifling ripples. A moment later I had put on my hat and overcoat, and found myself walking briskly along the street. I paused in front of a large stone building, the en trance to which was flanked with lonic columns. The doors swung open and I went inside. After some climbing of dim stairways, I emerged into a sort of gallery, which overlooked an immense room filled with people and lined with stately columns. Underneath where I stood, a little to the right, sat a person of commanding appearance, turning the leaves of several huge volumes which lay before him. Now and then he would call out a name, very clear ly and distinctly, and some one would come forward in response and undergo a series of questions, the answers to which were entered by the examiner in his books. I noticed that each page had four divi sions. running from top to bottom. The first con tained the names of those examined; the second was headed Real Estate, the third Personal Property, and the fourth Total. The first and second columns were already filled in; the third and fourth were left blank. It now dawned upon me that this official was a tax assessor. “Elijah Weld!” I started at hearing the name of my old friend. He came forward, leaning somewhat heavily on his cane. I peered over the assessor’s shoulder to see what the doctor’s real estate was valued at. At first I thought I had made a mistake, but there was the amount, just opposite his name. I counted three, four, five, six figures. The doctor was a millionaire! I could not hear distinctly what was passing be tween Dr. Weld and the assessor, but it was plain that the former was protesting against an attempt ed over-valuation of his personal property. One or twice I heard him say, “It can’t be over two hundred,” and finally, “Well, if I have all that I never knew it until now.” The assessor meanwhile was referring to other books, which seemed to con tain memoranda to aid him in making his estimate. At last, in spite of the old man’s expostulations, the assessor deliberately set down in the column headed “Personal Property” on a line with my friend’s name, a number containing seven figures! I was indignant. I turned to the spectator near- est me in the gallery, and inquired, with some warmth: Mhat tax is that fellow collecting? lam the city tax assessor here, and I know that assessment to be exoroitant. It is simply absurd. Why, I am positive that all of that old gentleman’s property put together wouldn’t foot up over ten thousand dollars, and they’ve put him down for two or three million! ” My neighbor smiled. “Perhaps you are right as to his house and stocks and things like that,” he answered; “but this assessment is not of that kind of property. The column which you see marked ‘Real Estate’ contains the values represented by all the kind deeds and unselfish actions which each per son has done during bis life; in other words, his heavenly investments. These figures are fixed by the assessors, who have ample and correct data for their calculations. “By ‘Personal Property’ is meant the pure and noble thoughts, the secret prayers, which stand to the credit of each taxpayer. The ‘Personal ’ re- « turns are given in upon oath by the taxpayer him self: but the assessor has the right to reject or alter such returns at his discretion. Sometimes the tax payer is honestly mistaken as to the value of his credits, and frequently the total amount finally set down in the books is quite different from the one in the taxpayer’s returns.” At this moment I noticed a stout florid man in a white waistcoat making his way to the desk, and I recognized my friend, Mr. Couppon, whose name j had evidently just been called. He came up smiling pleasantly, and nodding every now and then to an acquaintance. He held in his hand a slip of paper, which he unfolded upon reaching the desk, and placing his eyeglasses upon his nose, stood in an expectant attitude, waiting to be questioned. Meanwhile I was looking to see what his realty was assessed at. I was amazed to find that the amount was less than one hundred dollars. Tn reply to a question from the assessor, Mr. Couppon read an inventory, winding up with a grand total of three million, six hundred and some odd thousand. “That is the full market value,” he concluded, putting his paper in his pocket. “You might call it, in round numbers, three million five; hundred thousand.” “Isn’t that rather liberal?” said the assessor. r Mr. Couppon shrugged his shoulders. “Ah, well,” he said, “it may seem so; but, then, I don’t mind paying the tax, and I have to tell the truth, you know.” Without replying the assessor entered the amount ■—three and a half million—not in the third column of the book, but on a separate slip which he filed away in a card catalogue. He then dismissed Mr. Couppon, who went back in high good humor. More searching of the record books followed. Finally, after some calculating, the assesor set down in the personalty column opposite Mr. Couppon’s name, a number containing just two pitiful figures! I could not help feeling a secret gratification at this merited exposure. I turned to my neighbor in the next seat and began to tell how this same Mr. Couppon had been to my office that very day, and how he had fidgeted and squirmed and prevaricated when it came to giving an account of his money and securities. Suddenly I stopped as if I had been shot and sat quite motionless, the perspiration breaking out on my forehead. My own name had been called! I was unable to move. I did not dare even to look over the railing, for fear I should find my as sessment in the neighborhood of zero. I felt as if I was falling a great distance and landed with a violent shock in my easy chair fronting the fire place. I drew a long breath, and looked anxiously about to see that everything was as usual—the lamp, the clock, the cheerful andirons. Yet even as I did so I heard some one say, like the last stroke of a bell: “For where thy treasure is, there shall thy heart X be also.” >