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[p. 28]

Medford Municipal publications.

The earliest of such to be printed that comes under our notice is ‘Receipts and Expenditures’ of the town for the year ending February 1, 1835, i.e., for the preceding fiscal year. It was a thin pamphlet of twenty-four pages, including the list of tax payers, resident and nonresident being listed separately.

In later years were added brief reports of the various town officers, and recommendations made by them. At intervals the valuation list made by the assessors was included. A collection of these may be found in the Public Library. The issues of several years are grouped into one volume, and though at the time substantially bound, are in need of rebinding, owing to the deterioration of the leather.

Our first acquaintance with such Medford output was in the spring of 1871, when the constable left at our home the warrant for the annual town meeting—‘March meeting’ we called it then—accompanied by the ‘Town book,’ or reports of the preceding year of 1870. The town meeting was then thus ‘warned’ at every dwelling within its limits.

Medford had then a population of 5,517, having more than doubled since 1838, when its first printed report was issued. The tax rate (1870) was $3.60 per thousand, there were 899 dwellings (61 being double), 1,480 ratable polls and 1,403 resident tax payers, including 747 who paid poll tax only, which was then $1.50.

In that issue, thirty-four pages covered the tax payers list, forty-six the financial statements. The reports of various departments fill nearly one hundred pages, and ask for an appropriation for 1871 of $88,468.56. Medford had the previous year built its water works. The town debt, exclusive of water bonds, was $59,000, funded over a period of nineteen years, with a balance in the treasury of $21,386.09, with $2,000 due from the state. The town's property was listed $150,596.48, the most valuable parcel being the high school house (i.e., the [p. 29] front section of present Centre school) and land, $25,000. One piece of property listed, the hearse, $400, the town or city no longer owns.

No person's name appears among the town officers as sexton, nor yet the title; there was then no ‘Cemetery Committee,’ the selectmen attended to such duty. They (that year) recommended the consolidation of the selectmen, highway supervisors, and overseers of the poor into one board of five members, instead of the former three boards of three, which was done, and so continued under the town government.

Receiving such a statement of town affairs certain days before the town-meeting day, citizens had opportunity, and thoughtful tax payers scrutinized the pages carefully, and came to town meeting prepared to discuss proposed measures, their need and cost, and vote accordingly. If, after consideration, work was intrusted to their execution, there was reasonable chance of its being done within the appropriation. Those were the days of actual cost, rather than ‘cost plus’ of more recent date.

To the average reader the ‘town report’ is rather dry reading matter, but to the citizen of average means, who by industry and thrift is striving for the ownership of a home and finds the present heavy taxation a burden, an examination of the account of public expenditure is of real interest.

Allusion has been made to the report of 1870. We have before us our entire lot for fifty years. They are not cast in one mold, though their pages are of uniform size. Some have details omitted by others; some reports are prolix, others very brief. A few have the records of town meetings. Some make especial note of some public enterprise to the neglect of other. For the year 1890 the book is of over six hundred pages, the valuation list occupying one-third. That year and the next the town had six voting precincts for elections, the precursor of what was coming. The census of 1890 gave 11,790 as Medford's population. [p. 30]

In 1885 a petition was presented to the General Court from inhabitants of West Medford, asking that a division of the town be made, and that the western portion be incorporated as a new town under the name of Brooks. Medford had then a population of 9,041. The petitioners at this hearing set forth ‘that they were opposed to a city form of government and desired separation in order to retain the management of their prudential affairs in the hands of the many, and not delegate all their rights and privileges to the control of a few.’ The hearings before the legislative committee, to whom it was referred, together with arguments of counsel, form interesting reading, published as it was in separate volumes, that of the petitioners 171 pages, that of the remonstrants 203. Five successive efforts were made toward this end in as many years without success. The fourth effort, that of 1888, came nearest success. Though a majority of the Committee on Towns reported leave to withdraw, a substitute report ‘to incorporate the town of Brooks’ was lost by a yea and nay vote of 89 yea to 93 nay, with 10 votes paired on each.

The final effort of the petitioners in 1889 proved more ineffectual, the vote being 48 in favor, 109 against. This was the death knell of town government in Medford.

In those years the population of the whole town had increased almost to the minimum number requisite for a city charter, the census of 1890 enumerating 11,770. The ‘March meeting’ of 1891 appointed a committee to consider the advisability of petitioning for such, which committee in November reported that its census taken showed the population to be 12,100, and recommended that a city charter be obtained.

Such petition to the General Court being granted at its session of 1892, its action was accepted at a special town meeting. It is somewhat significant of the good sense of those earlier petitioners, who foresaw danger in ‘delegating their rights and privileges to the few,’ that the charter was accepted October 6, 1892, by a [p. 31] vote of 382 as against 342. The first election for city officers occurred December 13, 1892, and the first inauguration January 2, 1893.

The last ‘Town Book’ was issued under the new city government and contains the inaugural address of Mayor Lawrence, 12 pages; the city charter, 24; and city organization, 6 pages. The tax list of 1892 covers 87 pages, and the various reports and financial statements bring the book to a total of 392. One thousand, six hundred and seventy-seven residents and 631 non-residents were assessed tax on property, while 2,350 were assessed poll tax only. The rate was $14.80, an excess of but 20 cents over the previous year. Two thousand, five hundred and eighty-three children were enrolled in the public schools. The net debt, including the water loan, 3 14/100 per cent of the total valuation; exclusive of water loan, 1 27/100 per cent.

It may be noticed that Medford's last year as a town was a short one—eleven months—and this book, unlike those before, could not get into the citizens' hands until after the new order began. But Medford had, by the narrow margin of forty votes, delegated its affairs to the management of the few.

It is not the purpose of the present writing to criticise the various administrations of public affairs and expense during the thirty years that have elapsed, but to call attention to these publications as of local history. We will, however, say that the 1920 volume was not ready for distribution until November, 1921.

Annually the reports for the year preceding have been issued, and citizens who were enough interested in the matter to apply to the auditor were furnished with a copy.

This latest report shows a tax rate of $29.80 per thousand, and 11,584 assessed polls. Of these 1,471 are exempt(but 51 being veterans of Civil War.) Five thousand, one hundred and eighty-five individual residents and 1,391 individual non-residents were assessed [p. 32] on property. Eight thousand, one hundred and fiftyeight persons (and firms) assessed on property and 8,560 persons for poll tax only, the latter being $5.00. Population as found by assessors, April 1, 1920, 40,070. (At the present writing it is said to be 42,000.) We are told that the present enrollment of children in the schools is now 7,000 as against 6,378 in the report of 1920.

Some of these annuals have been embellished with portraits of the inaugural incumbent, and some department reports illustrated by maps and views of some engineering construction. A few views show features now obliterated and the improvement there made. Twentyfive reports, from as many departments, were addressed to the mayor and form the bulk of the latest published report, that of 1920. Three hundred copies of this book of 383 pages were printed.

Another publication, not included in those already mentioned, has been furnished to citizens on application — the Poll, or Ward Book, as some style it. It bears the title, ‘List of Persons in Medford Assessed a Poll Tax April 1’ of the stated year. The names in each ward are given in alphabetical order of street, reading across the page, thus: ‘House Number, Name, Age, Occupation, Residence in Previous Year.’ The last issued under the above caption was that of 1920, 292 pages, and contained 10,667 names. The Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution caused a change in the form of the assessors' publication, which appeared in a separate book for each ward, with covers of differing color, entitled, ‘Persons Listed as Residents of Medford, April 1, 1921.’ It is said to contain nearly twenty-seven thousand names upon 728 pages. Three wards are each divided into two voting precincts, each is separately listed. As this listing begins at the age of twenty and is supposed to be correct at April 1, 1921, it will be seen that there is in the hands of our people (such as have it) a valuable directory of the city. It might be improved by a plain general map, showing ward and precinct lines, [p. 33] and some method of showing the direction in which street numbers run.

Never before has there been so accurate an enumeration of Medford's people made available. For instance, a family residing at number—, ——street, consists of the father, whose occupation is——. The mother is listed as housewife, but a distinction is found in some cases where some woman is the housekeeper. The young people of each household are there listed according to occupation, and older women ‘at home.’ To the names of some elderly men residing with a son the former occupation is given, and in some cases as ‘retired.’ In a few cases no occupation is given, though such are rare; the writer, after a residence in Medford of over fifty-two years, finds himself thus distinguished. No material criticism was made in the matter of the age item until the recent listing. Probably that is in the main correct, but there are exceptions.

Assuming 42,000 to be Medford's present population, with 27,000 above twenty years listed thus, and 7,000 enrolled in the schools, leaves 8,000 made up of children under five years, and young people under twenty not in public school. As yet we are not informed what proportion this latter class bears to the former. It is one, however, that will next year, in part, pass over into the listed residents to increase the 27,000 and be a part of the voting factor for good or for ill. The question naturally arises, ‘Which will it be?’ What do those of the annually recurring recruits to the voting list know of the city's affairs and needs, or of the qualifications for service of those for whom they vote?

Delegated to the few, are the city's business affairs placed in competent hands by the popular vote? Again it may well be asked, ‘How many of the electorate of Medford are enough concerned for its welfare to acquaint themselves with its affairs and their administration, but leave it to the other fellow? How many ever see the city's annual printed reports, or read its pages and form [p. 34] any intelligent idea of the how and why of the rate and amount of the tax bill they grumble about, and finally with sacrificing effort pay?’

We have alluded to the report for 1870 and its distribution to every dwelling in town. There were probably 1,000 copies printed, and the month that intervened between the close of the fiscal year and the warning of town meeting sufficed for the making up of reports, printing and delivery. The ‘oppressed laborers’ of that time worked ten hours daily, six days in a week, and the business men, their employers, probably more hours, but both classes found time to inform themselves, for the government was then ‘in the hands of the many,’ and the voters were the appropriating power.

How is it today? At present writing some departments' reports have not reached the chief executive, and none as yet are ready for public distribution. For 1920 300 copies only were printed, at a cost to our tax payers of $1,688, or $5.63 per copy, and now, after more than eight months, only a little over half have been taken by the citizens. And who are these citizens? We answer, ‘Those who are interested enough to go to the auditor's office and ask for the book.’ We are told that copies taken were by the older citizens, long resident in Medford and farthest removed from Medford square. And what are our citizens but members of a business corporation whose reported annual expenditure is upward of three million dollars and whose future is mortgaged heavily?

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