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Real estate record and builders' guide: v. 21, no. 522: March 16, 1878

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Real Estate Record AND BUILDERS' GUIDE. Vol. XXI. NEW YORK, SATUBDAY, MAECH Ki, 1878. Xo. •}•). Published IVeekly by Cbc'Ecii( (Instate Secor^g^ssodaliou. TER:yis. OiVE YEAR, in advance.. ..SIO.OO. C'oiiiiiumic.ations should bo addressed to C-. IV. SWEET, Nos. '.AT, A.VD •■}-t7 Broadway. E(;)UALIZATION OF CITY TAXES. We have alreadj' doinoustratod to our oAvn .satisfaction that fully ten-elevenths of the present cuormous budget of taxation is indirectly and directly deriAcd from real estate. Tbere is prob¬ ably no immediate prospect ot" either a change of the present Ijiav or a modification of the present system of tax assessments, altbougb, in point of fact, the tAvo have little or no natural aflhiitj'. Tlie law says one thing, Avi.sely providing for an iMpiitable taxation valueof all classes of property; the present .system says the Iiiav, as defined, can¬ not be executed and tiierefore the oflicials charged with ils c.x.;ciitioii must become a hiAV unto tbein¬ sclves and establish such assessments as seem good in their ey-es. Noav, if ten-eleA'enths of tax¬ ation Avere derived from organized capital and oiiIa- one-eleventh from estate, it might bo a matter of v-ery-small moment astohoAv this latter fractional portion A\-as distributed, since in that case hardly- any land-OAvner Avould be able to coiniilaiii of an oppressive burden. But Avheii Ave come to leverso these ligures, and lind that one eleventh of taxation is levied upon organized capital and teii-elevenlhs upon real estate, then it becomes a question of the greatest nioinent Iioav this vast total of taxation is actually- distri¬ buted among the v-arious oAvners of real estate. Our land-oAvniiig readers must eertniiily- be aAvure and perhaps the majority of business men are also aware, of the manner in Avhicli taxation is distributed in this city-. Deputy as.«ie.ssoi-.s. as they are iioav called, Avard assessors as they were formerly' called, are supposed to examine annual¬ ly every piece of taxable property in the city; aflix an arbitrary value to the same; and return it in a list, to the accuracy and tnitlifulness of Avhicli the a.ssessor is obliged to certify under oath. The duties of the three tax commissioners are to revise and equalize tho lists of the sub-assessors, and their liiial decision in regard to tax valua¬ tions is authoritative aud binding upon the tax payer. Tho proportion of taxation which each individual land-OAvner is required to bear is deter¬ mined by the amount of assessed valuation of hi.s property. The ratio or percentage that the Avholo budget of taxation bears to the total of correct assessed valuations furnishes the percent¬ age rate; and the calculation of this percentage rate upon individual valuations furnishes the amount of respective tax bills. The tax valuations of real estate, as compiled in the tax commissioners' office at the present time, constitute a great mosaic or patch-work. These valuations have never been assessed and determined as they should be upou a scientific and comprehensive method; They have been continuously handed doAvii through successive lists or books as the Avork of a long succession of ap- praisei-s, and succee-liugonicials have increased or diiiiiiiished exi.sting valuations ostensibly ac¬ cording to the .iudgment but really according to the Avhiiii, fancy- or caprice of the acting deputy as.sessor. Since the establishment of the tax ofUce. there has alAA'ays been a leading and reliable expert iu tbe matter of valuations, aud at times in tbe corps of deputy- as.sessois there have been a feAv nien Avho Avere (|iia!ilied by experience and training to intelligently- fulfil the duties of their ollice, but of the majority- of these sub-asses.soi-s it may bo triitbfully and not iiiicharitalily .'■aid, that tlicy have no special aptitude or proyier training for the discharge of their delicate and responsible duties, and this tho more candid of them would frankly acknoAvledge. Green, inex¬ perienced and untutored, they are sent out like babes in the Avoods, to trace their Avay Ihrough the labyrinth of Kcav York valuations. AVe doubt if any surer system could bo devised than this for defeating the proper valuation of prop¬ erty for taxation. Besides erroneous calculations, niisjudgments and, partial or malicious estimates of value, tlieie has ci-ei>t into the Avhole .system, man-ing and dishonoring it, an element of political partisanship Avhich took root in a pre¬ ceding and corrupt genei-ation, but the eft'ects of Avbicb, it is to be feared, are in the main perpet¬ uated to the present daA'. There Avas a time under "tlie^ TAVccd regime, when an ollice avus opened on BroadAvay, of AAhich the avoAved business Avas tho procuring of arbitiary and inor¬ dinate reductions in tax valuations. For such service a fee Avas exacted amounting to one-half of the .sum of ta.xation that the property oAvners might save. The motto of this ollice was, " Poli¬ tics is a business." It is more than suspected that under the same corrupt regime partiiyinship and jiolitical influ¬ ence operated to establish Avidely disproportion¬ ate tax valuatimis in a great number and variety- of properties. It Avould be impossible to .say- Avbether theso in¬ equalities and disproportions of valuations still exist Avithout a careful and laborious inspection of the tax commi.ssioner's books. It is sufiicient, liOAvever, to declare that such an impression is abroad in the community, and Avhether right or Avrong the clamor resulting from it cannot be si¬ lenced until tho commissioners consent to publish in book form their lists of tax valuations in real estate, if not in real and pei-soiial both. This Avould enalde curious and apprehensive citizens to satisfy^ their doubts and misgivings upon this vital topic. If the tax valuations are just and equal, as the commissioners perhaps believe and are ready- to declare, then Avbat objection can there be to giving property OAvners and tax-payers, who are deeply concerned in the subject, the satisfaction of seeing the proof with their OAvn ej-es. But, if, as can hardly^ fail to be the case, there are exist¬ ing disparities in valuations" of extensive and ramified sorts, perhaps entirely unknoAvn and un- cognizablo to the present commissioners; then it becomes equally tbe duty of the city and of these special ollicials to furnish tax payers Avitli (he data by Avliich they (.un form a clear and intel¬ ligent judgment and a.'-(,-eilaiii the uctiiul facts of the case. The (ir.-t measure of refi.rm— the practical step to betaken iuthe direct imi of the jiLst eiiuaiizatimi of city taxes—is that of printing in convenient und cluap shape the present li.sts of tax valuation.s. But as long as the^ is continued of ex¬ ecuting the present Iuav iinilcr the .sy.'^tciu now iu vogue, it becomes of the highc.'it imiKu-lunce that the upportionnient ol tux;.tion of r.'ul e.slate be mudeuiion the most ei)uilabli- uiid scientific priii ciples. An effort, ut hiist, to secure this d(\';ider- atiim Avill cnmmeud itself tu the fairiitss aud sense of justice of every- lux-jiuy-er. We huA-e before outlined the .'iysteui ujioii Avhich this can be done easily :uul comiireheusivelA', and the more avo rellect ii]ioii it the more Ave are con¬ vinced of its suitublene.'^s for uccomplishing the object ill vioAv. Until a better method is .sug¬ gested, Ave shall coiitimie to reiterate ourdt-uiand for the adoiitioii of this special i)!uii us the most exhaustive and s.-itisf.act(iry th.-it cnii be couceived of for covering the entire ca.«e. In ils pr.-u-tical operation avu believe that this .'■chenie will be found to be more eflicaciou.s, economical and sjit- isfying than the present method, or lack of method. It is simply this: 1. To let a reliable, iiilelligeiit expert, like Mr. Coleman, of the tax ofiice. or any one, or half a dozen of the leading qualified experts in the citv take the city maps, and estubb'sh urbitrarv and consistent land values for every block in t!ie city, A number of adjacent blocks migia begroiiiied together in a sfclioii, und a imifiuiii sy.stem of valuation applied to the projierty Avithin ibis sec. tion—corners, at .such a price; aviuiuelots, at such a price; street lots, at such a price; frm tioiial lots to be computed at-cordiiig to the sluiidurd unit of land measiii-e, to Avit, a full lot of tweuly-fivo by- one liundred. These land values cleurh- u. By means of these tAvo sets of building appraise¬ ments, the tax commissioners Avould be able to' form a clear judgment as to the inoper valui- tious to be jiut uiitui building innuovements. 3. After defining these tAA'o classes of value, to ■wit, the land value and tbe imiirovenieut value^