Lawson Purdy

Block System - Field Work of Assessors - Traffic as a Factor of Value - Corner Lots - Using Floor Area - Correcting Assessments - Previous Sales - St. Paul Plan

The precise form of the organization of the assessing department of a city must depend more or less upon the size of the city, but the principles which should underlie the organization are the same in every city and in country districts as well.

The administrative head of the assessing department should be appointed and not elected, and should be removed at the pleasure of the appointing power. Associated with the administrative head of the department there should be a sufficient number of commissioners, who, together with him, shall act as a board of review and pass on all questions which should properly be submitted to the board rather than to a single official. In small cities a board of three members would be sufficient, and two of them might receive a much smaller compensation than the administrative head of the department, as their duties would probably be confined to the reviewing work, which would take only a few weeks in the course of a year. In large cities the number may be increased as necessity requires. In the City of New York there are seven members in the present board, and the number is sufficient and not too large to be effective.

The members of this board, including the administrative head, should be appointed and not elected, as it is desirable that there should be as few persons as possible to be elected in order that the issues presented to voters shall be simple and that responsibility may be centered. Objection is sometimes made against giving the appointing power the option to remove at will any appointee, on the ground that certain positions are essentially non-political, and appointment for a term of years frees the official from undue influence; but this system deprives the voters of control over their own officials by dividing responsibility, and it is the essence of popular government that the voters should at all times, or at frequent intervals, exercise the most effective and direct control over all public servants.

The assessors who perform the actual work of appraisal should give their entire time to their work and be engaged in no other business. They should be selected as the result of a competitive examination, which should be designed with care to ascertain their fitness for the actual duties they are called upon to perform; when appointed, they should be removed only for cause and after a hearing. The assessors should be sufficient in number so that no one man should have more than 10,000 parcels of real estate to assess. In a sparsely settled territory where the parcels of property are large, and in congested centers where the parcels are of irregular shape and values are high, the number of parcels which can properly be assigned to any one man may not be more than about 4,000. Each assessor should be assisted by a clerk appointed after competitive examination and removable only for cause. In large cities certain of the assessors may be assigned to executive work and a further force of clerks may be required in addition to the one clerk assigned to each field assessor.