Benjamin Franklin wrote, in a 1779 letter to a friend, “Our new constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.”
Franklin was not the first and would not be the last to combine the words “death and taxes” – notably Daniel Defoe, author of “Robinson Crusoe,” in his 1726 “The Political History of the Devil.”
The Idaho Tri-weekly Statesman published a lengthy list of Ada County taxpayers in September 1865, listing adjustments to the amount taxpayers paid on money earned in more than one jurisdiction.
The Owyhee County commissioners created the office of tax collector in 1867 but repealed the action only four days later, and added tax collecting to the duties of the county sheriff, who was already on the payroll, saving the expense of another employee.
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Boise County had a different way of funding the office of tax collector. In 1873 that official received 10 percent of all he collected, certainly an incentive for him to work hard at the job. When that still wasn’t enough to make a decent living, his pay was raised in 1874 to 15 percent of what he collected..
In February 1869, the Statesman reported: “The dog tax collected thus far in Boise City, we understand, has amounted to two hundred dollars – being the tax on forty dogs. It is thought by some that this dog tax will be sufficient to carry on the city government without levying any special tax for that purpose. There are probably about 100 dogs subject to the tax.” It seems incredible today that there ever was a time when the cost of government was so little, unless you consider that Boise’s city government provided virtually no service to its citizens beyond police and fire protection, and much of the latter was provided by volunteers.
In the 1870s an Ada County poll tax of $2 annually was levied on males older than 21 and younger than 50. “Each city and village has authority to require every able-bodied male to work two days on streets and highways. The delinquent forfeits the $1.00 per day. A road poll tax not exceeding $4.00 on each adult person may be levied by the county commissioners.”
On July 10, 1875, the Statesman reported: “Poll Taxes. Know ye all men who have not paid your $4.00 poll tax, that on and after the first Monday in August a poll tax receipt will cost $5.00. The tax collector, or his deputy, can always be found during business hours at his office, corner of Idaho and 8th streets opposite Agnew & Race’s stable.” The tax on Boise real estate in 1874 was “the usual one-half of one percent” of the assessed valuation..
In May the paper found humor in tax collecting: “A rural assessor lately asked a woman how many chickens she had, and doubting her word proceeded to count them. She took him to the bee hive, kicked it over and told him to count the bees. From the marks on his person they calculated the number of insects.”
Banker C.W. Moore, treasurer of the Independent School District of Boise City, placed this notice in the Idaho Statesman on September 12, 1888:”School Taxes. Notice is hereby given that the board of trustees have levied and assessed a tax of one per cent upon all the taxable property of said district found upon the assessment roll of Ada County for the year 1888.”
It was in April 1890 that the paper noted: “City Marshal Nicholson says that a great many are working their road taxes out this year instead of paying the cash. A large number of such as propose to pay cash have put the marshal off to the first of next month.”
On Dec. 7, 1893, year of a great national depression, the Statesman noted: “The total amount of city taxes collected this year is $18,000. The delinquent list will aggregate about $1175.”
Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.