North Carolina Newspapers

    The news in this publi
cation is released for the
press on receipt.
Pubiished Weekly by the
University of North Caro
lina for the University Ex
tension Division.
JUNE 16, 1926
VOL. XII, NO. 31
Eflitoriiii Boardi E. C. Branson, S. H. Hobbs, Jr., L. E. Wilson, E. W. Knit?ht. D, D. Carroll, J. B. Bullitt, H, W. Odum.
Entered as second-class matter November 14. 1914. at the Poatoffice at Chapel Hill, N. C., under the act of August 24, 1912
Except in a few counties, county
government in North Carolina is head
less, irresponsible, wasteful and ineffi
cient. This is probably no more true
of North Carolina counties than of
most of the other 3,200 counties in the
United States.
A quarter of a century ago James
Bryce made such a strong indictment
against American city government that
the cities were ashamed, and hundreds
of them have since reorganized in the
interests of efficiency arid honesty. More
than 300 cities are now operating under
a commission or commission-manager
State governments are also being re
organized in the direction of simplifica
tion, centralized control and business
efficiency. As the functions of govern
ment increase and taxes multiply, tax
payers are compelled to demand that
government be administered on the
same level of business efficiency as any
other corporation. In other words, they
demand that patronage and waste be
eliminated. In the words of Herbert
Quick, “the politician has been driven
into the last ditch and that ditch is the
county courthouse.” County govern
ment is largely rural government, so it
is the farmer’s job to drive the politi
cian from the courthouse.
Enlarged Responsibilities
There are 100 counties in North Caro
lina. In 1910 they spent approximately
$5,000,000, and had a bonded debt of
$5,000,000. In 1925 they spent $36,-
000,000, and had a bonded debt of $102,-
000*000. The per capita tax for county
and school purposes in 1910 was $3.13.
In 1926, it was $13.46. In 1910 the per
capita debt was $2.26; in 1926 it had
risen to $39.30. The per capita state
debt rose from $3.26 to $60.64. It does
not follow, however, that there is any
more waste proportionately. Probably
the North Carolina farmer is getting
more for each dollar he pays in taxes
than ever before. This is because
there is no state property tax, and all
the property tax he pays is spent’with
in the county. Still, he ie not getting
maximum returns, for the simple
reason that county government is not
organized, equipped and staffed to meet
its enlarged responsibilities. A form
of government that served very well
when the functions were few and
simple, and expenditures amounted to
only $60,000 a year, falls down when
functions became more technical and
expenditures mount to $350,000 a year.
County Officers
The North Carolina Constitution pro
vides for the popular election of the
following officials: board of commission
ers, treasurer, register of deeds, sur
veyor, sheriff, clerk of superior court,
and coroner. The first four, however,
maybe “modified, changed or abro
gated” by statute of the General
Assembly. In about one-fourth of the
counties the treasurership has been
abolished as an elective office, and a
bank is selected by the commissioners
as fiscal agent. The commissioners
have general fiscal and administrative
powers. They determine for what pur
poses county money shall be spent and
they determine the tax levy. They
may buy or sell property or incur an in
debtedness in the name of the county.
They have a general supervision over
all county institutions, except that
school matters have been delegated to
a school board, and in many counties
highway construction and maintenance
has been delegated to a separate road
board. Tax listers and assessors are
appointed by the commissioners, and in
most counties the sheriff acts as a tax
collector, as well as a police officer.
The sheriff or one of his deputies acts
as jailer. The superior court meets
two, three, or four times avyear in each
county. In a few counties there is an
inferior court known as a recorder’s
court which may have jurisdiction over
the entire county, or only within a par
ticular city. In most counties there is no
inferior court except the justice of
peace courts. There are numerous
justices of the peace in each county,
but only a few are active. They no
longer have any administrative powers,
but are simply petty magistrates. They
have lost the importance and dignity
that they once possessed.
No Headship
It will be seen from this enumeration
that there are eight or ten separate de
partments in county government, with no
co-ordination and no responsible execu
tive headship. In a limited way the com
missioners are the head of the county,
but they cannot exert any real control
over officials who are elected by popu
lar vote in the same manner as them
selves. Even if they had the authority
how can they keep up with county
business when they meet only one day
a month, and then have a score of
delegations to receive, and a hundred
or more claims to audit? For all practi
cal purposes the county has no head,
and it is not surprising that it does not
function efficiently. Any corporation
that tried to get along with such an
organization would go bankrupt in a
The county’s main source of revenue
is the general property tax. In 1920 a
state-wide revaluation was made, and
an attempt made to make the tax books
tell the truth. Since then the State
has turned over the property tax ex
clusively to the counties, so the assess
ment of property is also left pretty
much to the county. Consequently,
there is no uniform standard of valua
tions between counties. Neither do as
sessment values within a county rep
resent any uniform relation to the true
values. Moat real estate ranges from
60 to 80 per cent, though it is not un
common to find property assessed at its
full market value. There is a vast
amount of property, both tangible and
intangible, that escapes the tax books
entirely. The assessment of property
for taxation will never be done satis
factorily so long as it is left exclusively
to local men who are inexperienced, and
who are guided by personal prejudices
and political fears. Furthermore, prop
erty will continue to slip off the tax
books until there is a better method of
preparing, preserving, and revising the.
tax roll. A few counties have full
time tax supervisors who have earned
their salaries many times over in the
discovery of taxables.
Tax Collecting
North Carolina counties are deficient
also in tax collecting. Taxes become
due in October, but the taxpayer has
until May to pay. A small penalty is
permitted after February, but it is rare
ly imposed. Frequently tbe commis
sioners extend the taxpaying period for
several months; and it is notuncommon
for a county to be collecting two or
three years’ taxes at the same time.
This is contrary to law, but is a com
mon practice. In one county there
are more than $100,000 of back taxes
still uncollected. Land sales are only
a gesture; rarely is there a foreclosure.
None of the other Southern States ap
pears to lose as much from uncollected
taxes, and yet no state pays more
liberal commissions for collecting
taxes. The fault is probably due to
the practice of making the sheriff tax
collector. He is usually a politician,
and uses the tax-collecting power as a
political instrument. I have often
heard the remark, “Mr. is a fine
sheriff; he never presses me for my
Account Keeping
There are a few counties in North
Carolina in which modern systems of
accounting have been installed, audits
are made periodically, and all tempta
tion for the misappropriation of funds
is removed. In most counties, however,
there is no bookkeeping worthy of the
name. Frequently officials make no at
tempt to keep public funds separate
from their personal funds; they are al
lowed to go for years without a settle
ment; and finally, the records on which
to base a settlement are so incomplete
that a settlement is almost impossible.
Sometimes a perfectly honest official
gets so confused in his accounts that
he innocently uses up public funds, and
then cannot make a settlement in full.
I know of several cases where this has
happened, and the commissioners have
compromised and cancelled several
thousand dollars of the deficit.
No government can rise above the
There appears in this issue
the first of three articles on County
Government, recently published by
Southern Agriculturist, and writ
ten by Paul W. Wager, research
assistant in county government,
Institute for Research in Social
Science, University of North Caro
During the last year and a half
three graduate research assistants,
Messrs. Paul W. Wager, Brandon
Trussell, and Myron Green, have
made intensive first-hand surveys in
county government at the county
seats of twenty-two North Carolina
counties, as follows; Alamance, Alle
ghany, Ashe, Beaufort, Burke, Ca
barrus, Caldwell, Chowan, Craven,
Edgecombe, Gates, Macon, New
Hanover, Pamlico, Perquimans, Pitt,
Polk, Rutherford, Stanly, Surry,
Union, and Washington.
These studies, are not for pub
licity, by the way, but are strictly
for guidance and use by students of
county government, mainly so far for
the County Government Commission
appointed by Governor McLean,
which commission is to report back
to the State Associ^ion of County
Commissioners, the Governor, and
the 1927 legislature. These research
assistants are making the most ex
tensive field studies of county
government ever conducted in
the United States. All three of
them are admirably qualified to
speak on county government. It is
hoped that this brief series will
better acquaint the people of the
state with county government under
which all live, but about which
amazingly little of a definite sort is
known. County government has
very aptly been called the jungle
of American democracy, the dark
continent of American politics. A
few exploring parties have been
sent into the jungle, and a little
light is being shed on tbe dark
County commissioners who want
county government studies made in
their county should apply at once to
E. C. Branson, Chapel Hill, N. C.
level of its bookkeeping. Laxity in
this respect is constantly tempting offi
cials to be dishonest. Furthermore, it
makes it impossible to discover the
leakage in government. An adequate
and uniform system of accounting
would enable each county to compare
its expenditures item by item with its
The greatest waste of all in county
government is that which grows out of
political patronage. We are still com
mitted to the Jacksonian idea that
democracy means the popular election
of all public officials for short terms,
and that any person is qualified to fill
any office. We look upon political
office not as a trust, but as a reward or
prize. We give the offices to those who
have served their party faithfully, or
to widows, cripples, veterans, or others
whom we think deserving.
If we want to use this method to ad
minister relief, very well, but it does
not make for economy. Not only does
it fill our offices with incompetents, but
it means that those elected must use
their office to repay those who elected
them, or dispense favors in order to
secure a re-election. The people expect
public officials to remit fees, lower as
sessments, grant rebates, and buy
supplies from those who elected them.
The official must contribute to the
campaign fund, give to charity, sign
notes, and in a hundred ways keep the
good will of his constituents. For all
this, the taxpayer ultimately pays. We
have let the office obscure the work of
the office. The popular election of
clerks and administrators is democracy
gone to seed.
County taxes are excessive because
of the loose, disjointed, antiquated and
unintelligent methods used in conduct
ing county business. There can be no
relief until we put into practice those
same principles that operate in private
business—a simple, direct organization,
trained officials, and centralized ac
counting and control.—Paul W. Wager,
in Southern Agriculturist.
In all the widespread endeavor to
reduce or shift the tax burden, one
near-at-hand means is being overlooked.
County government, particularly in the
agricultural sections, is one of the
largest absorbers of tax money. But
has anyone questioned the need of so
many counties, each with its separate
outfit of officials and buildings to be
maintained at public expense?
Why, for instance, shouki there be
161 separate county governments in
Georgia—one for each 19,060 persons—
for the people to support? Or 114 in
Missouri? Or 106 in Kansas?
There is no present-day reason, of
course, except local pride and political
pottage. The automobile and other
forms of modern transportation and
communication have removed the need
of having county seats at frequent in
tervals for accessibility’s sake. In fact,
the present apportionment of counties
is a relic of horse-and-buggy days.
County government can function over
double or more the area it could when
most counties were projected.
Industry and farming have realized
the economy of larger units. Under the
fire of public criticism the Federal Gov
ernment is combining or eliminating
various bureaus to cut down costs. But
local government, the nearest to the
taxpayer, is allowed to remain exempt
from these money-saving changes.
Yet a reduction in its costs offers a
surer and more substantial return to the
taxpayers of agricultural sections than
most of the more distant reforms being
advocated. In an Iowa farm county,
taken at random, the salaries and ex
penses of officeholders along with the
maintenance costs of county buildings
ran up to $66,903 last year. These same
items came to $47,939 in a North Dakota
county, and to $43,760 in a Nebraska
A reapportionment and reduction in
the number of counties would be the
biggest tax-saving reform that could
be undertaken in a majority of the
states. —Country Gentleman.
The village of Altura, Minnesota, with
a population around 260 and a nearby
farming section of about 200 people has
until recently been without medical
service according to an editorial in the
New York Times. A health association
was formed in the community and a
physician secured through an advertise
ment in a medical journal which offered
to the man selected his choice of several
forms of guaranteed income. The first
pledged to him the patronage of 126
families at $24 a year; the second made
a like guarantee, but the doctor was to
practice on a fee basis, and only when
his receipts fell below $3,000 was the
association to be assessed for the re
mainder; the third was a promise to
secure as many families at $24 a year as
possible, who should have first claim
but the doctor was free for outside
Per Child Enrolled in School 1924-25 in North Carolina
In the following table, based on State School Facts, March 1, 1926, the coun
ties are ranked according to the value of white rural school property per white
child enrolled in rural schools for the year 1924-26. The parallel column shows
the average value of each white rural school in the county.
Washington county ranks first in value of white rural school property per
child enrolled with $267.98. Cherokee is last with $20.96, or less than one-twelfth
as much per ckyld. Wilson is first in the average value of white rural school-
houses, with $66,183. Cherokee is last, with $1,409.
State average of all white school property per child enrolled $113.40. Rural
average $81.34; city average $211.04. The city average is more than two and
one-half times the rural average.
The average white schoolhouse in the state is worth $13,627. The rural
average is $7,937; the city average is $86,073.
Department of Rural Social-Economics. University of North Carolina
value of
value per
value of
value per
Rank County
white rural
Rank County
white rural
1 Washington....
51 Cabarrus....
$ 7,253..
2 Wilson
.. 66,183...
.. 198.31
62 Wake
... 74.58
3 Currituck
.. 17,629...
., 172.98
53 Randolph.'...
... 73.87
4 Scotland
.. 16,100...
.. 166.67
64 Johnston ....
... 73.14
6 Pamlico
.. 10,925...
.. 166.70
66 Dare
... 70.69
6 Jones
.. 19,357...
.. 167.65
66 Lenoir
... 69.97
7 Robeson
.. 20,148...
.. 167.27
67 Burke
... 69.77
8 Edgecombe
.. 24,720...
.. 166.91
68 Camden
... 69.67
9 Montgomery...
.. 23,077...
.. 153.65
69 Watauga ....
.... 68.68
10 Craven
.. 13,632...
.. 150.63
60 Henderson...
... 68.49
11 Granville
.. 17,769...
.. 142.90
61 Jackson
... 67.90
12 Northampton..
.. 13,460...
.. 137.16
62 Halifax
.... 65.82
13 McDowell
.. 9,787...
.. 133.88
63 Onslow
... 66.63
14 Buncombe
.. 20,860...
.. 131.63
64 Anson
.... 65.66'
15 Hertford
.. 13,000...
.. 130.07
66 Chatham ....
... 66.49
16 Transylvania...
.. 9,645...
.. 128.46
66 Columbus....
... 64.16
17 Vance
.. 16,667...
.. 126.77
67 Iredell
... 62.67
18 Rockingham...
.. 13,036 ..
.. 120.86
68 Stanly
... 61.47
19 Perquimans
.. 6,860...
.. 120.18
69 Swain
... 60.72
20 Richmond
.. 16,693...
.. 116.34
70 Caswell
.... 69.56
21 Warren
.. 7,708...
.. 109.99
71 Polk
.... 59.16
22 Bladen
.. 10,218...
.. 109.73
72 Caldwell
... 67.62
23 Forsyth
.. 16,278...
.. 109.61
73 Avery
.... 65.40
24 Cumberland....
.. 22,958...
.. 109.30
74 Alamance....
.... 64.24
26 Guilford
.. 23,814...
.. 108.97
76 Graham
.... 62.38
26 Martin
.. 10,960...
.. 108.61
76 Davidson....
.... 51.66
27 Orange
.. 8,421...
.. 106 17
77 Alexander..
.... 51.09
28 Durham
.. 16,606...
.. 106.34
78 Alleghany ..
.... 60.71
29 Wayne
.. 11,600...
.. 105 18
79 Chowan
.... 49.31
30 Greene
.. 9,665...
.. 106.06
80 Moore
.... 48.76
31 Rutherford
.. 11,684...
.. 103.96
81 Lincoln
.... 48.76
32 Nash
.. 13,061...
.. 103.11
82 Rowan
.... 48.74
33 Carteret
.. 7,606...
.. 101.74
83 Union
.... 48.38
34 Gates
.. 9,166...
.. 99 87
84 Stokes
.... 46.97
36 Bertie
.. 7,879...
.. 98.08
86 Clay
.... 43.10
36 Pitt
.. 10,962...
.. 97.49
86 Lee
.... 42.61
37 Harnett
.. 11,038...
.. 96.33
87 Cleveland....
.... 42.63
38 Pasquotank
.. 8,888...
.. 94.26
88 Beaufort....-
.... 41.99
39 Tyrrell
.. 6,134...
.. 92.84
89 Franklin
.... 41.69
40 Mecklenburg...
.. 12,078...
.. 91.78
90 Brunswick..
.... 41.06
41 Hoke
.. 10,308...
.. 90.72
91 Madison
.... 40.99
42 Gaston
., 18,050...
.. 89.90
92 Macon
......... 2,026.
.... 38.22
43 Haywood
... 8,618...
.. 86.46
93 Ashe
.... 37.27
44 Davie
.. 9,336...
.. 85.66
94 Wilkes
.... 36.00
46 Hyde
.. 6,679...
.. 82.96
96 Sampson....
.... 36.67
46 New Hanover.
.. 6,692...
.. 81.32
96 Yancey
.... 34.04
47 Catawba
.. 11,638...
.. 81.22
97 Mitchell
.... 28.28
48 Duplin
.. 7,344...
.. 81.06
98 Yadkin
.... 27.81
49 Person
.. 6,668...
.. 80.80
99 Surry
.... 26.02
60 Pender
.. 4,146...
.. 76.63
100 Cherokee...
.... 20.96

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