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1 Part 6.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
OFFICE OF THE COMMISSIONERS
Washington, D. C., December 2, 1876. To the President:
In our last annual report we invited the attention of Congress to sev. eral matters of interest to the District requiring legislation, on which no action was bad, some of which we again respectfully submit for its consideration.
The commissioners of the sinking-fund, in their report for 1875, in referring to the near completion of their labors connected with the prepa. ration and issuing of the 3.65 bonds, and the relief they would experi. ence when done, as the entire supervision of them would thereafter devolve upon officers of the Treasury Department, except the registration of the coupon-bonds, which, as the law now stands, requires their aid, say that “ Under these circumstances we recommend a transfer, hy appropriate legislation, of the functions of the sinking-fund commis. sioners to officers of the Treasury Department, to be designated for that purpose, and we believe this would be in strict harmony with the spirit of recent legislation under which Congress has assumed its direct control of the affairs of this District." Concurring in this recommendation, for the reasons given, as well as because the proposed transfer of the fanctions of the commissioners of the sinking-fund to the officers of the Treasury Department would simplify the financial system of the District and lessen the public expense, we invited the favorable consideration of Congress to the recommendation, which we now renew.
The municipal ordinances of tbe District, consisting of the ordinances of the city of Washington, the city of Georgetown, and the levy court of the county of Washington, which had jurisdiction orer that part of the District outside of the cities of Washington and Georgetown, differ widely from each other, and, in many respects, are contradictory and incomplete. They need revision and amendment. It is believed that a single statute might be drawn applicable to and uniform throughout the whole District, and comprising all the necessary provisions of ordinary municipal regulation relative to tbe preservation of order and protection of property
Legislation is needed for the better regulation of sales of property for tax-arrearages, to subject the owners of property purchased by the District government to like penalties as if the property were purchased by a private person, and give the District absolute title in the property it purchases, within a reasonable time, without right of redemption thereafter to the owner or his legal representatives. This is important, as, under existing law, the owner has little inducement to pay the tax in arrear and redeem his property, while the District is deprived for an indefinite time of revenue from the property, either from the tax in arrear or the interest upon it, which is no less unjust to the property-owners who pay their taxes promptly than embarrassing to the administration of the finances of the District. We renew our recommendation for such legislation as will remedy these evils, will clearly define the rights of delinquent tax-payers, and enable the District government to enforce the prompt payment of taxes. And, in this connection, we recommend the legislation asked for by the col. lector in his report of 1875, to simplify the advertisements for the sale of property in arrears for taxes, so that they shall require only an intelligible description of the property, to whom assessed, and the time when the privilege of redemption will expire.
We join the collector also in his recommendation for such legislation as will make illegal any subdivision of real estate on which due taxes are unpaid, or the entry of such subdivision in the public records of the office of the surveyor. Such a law would secure the full payment of delin. quent taxes when the holder in default would want to subdivide his property for sale or otherwise. Property-holders who pay their taxes as required by law are entitled to the fullest practicable protection against the burdens resulting from the non-payment of taxes of other property-holders.
In our last annual report it was shown that the annual rent and cost of repairs of the rented buildings for the public schools were estimated by the trustees at $25,635, more than 6 per cent. interest on $400,000, the amount they estimate as sufficient to purchase sites and erect all the buildings required to meet the public school wants of the District. The conditions of the schools in this respect bare not been materially changed since the date of that report, and we venture to renew the inquiry whether, under the circumstances, it is not wiser policy to abandon the use of all rented school-buildings and substitute therefor bouses erected and owned by the District. To accomplish this, congressional appropriation will be needed in aid of the District resources.
The apportionment of the school.fund between the white and colored schools, as provided by law, ought not to be disturbed. No complaint of it has been made. It is based on the just principle of securing to all citizens of the District, without regard to race or color, equal privileges in the public schools. Under its operation both white and colored schools have prospered, and now justly rank among the best public schools of the country.
In addition to the recognized claims of all public schools upon the States and municipalities where located, the schools of this District hare peculiar claims upon the favorable consideration of Congress, as the legislature of the District, growing out of the fact that about one-third of the school population is colored, who have come into the District since the beginning of our late civil war, and who contribute little to our school-revenues, while about 30 per cent. of the enrollment of the white schools is composed of children whose parents or guardians are in the service of the United States, from whom little is received for the support of the public schools.
Congress baving established the policy of making liberal endowments of public lands to the public schools in the States and Territories of the Union, its attention has been frequently called by the trustees of the District schools to the claims of the District for like endowment of the schools here.
We venture to join the trustees in asking the favorable consideration of Congress to their request in this regard, unless it shall be its pleas. ure to make an equivalent money appropriation to aid in the purchase of sites and the erection of suitable buildings for the present and future accommodation of the school youth of the District and for the permanent maintenance of the schools now and that may be hereafter organized in the District.
Whatever form of government shall be permanently established for the District, authority, under proper restrictions and conditions, should be given the executive authorities to purchase sites and erect suitable buildings for school, police, and fire department uses, and to sell properties now owned by the District and held for like uses but not suitable for them, such as the central guard-house and lot on Louisiana avenue, and the police station-house, corner of K and Ninth streets, and all other real estate owned by the District not needed for government pur. poses.
In their accompanying report the commissioners of the fire department renew their recommendation for the organization of two additional engine companies, with the necessary apparatus, and one additional book and ladder company, equipped, at an estimated cost of $63,075. In view of the steadily increasing population of Washington, the large number of buildings erected during the past three or four years, and the pressing want of additional means for the extinguishment of fires in the portions of the city where it is proposed to organize and locate the three additional companies, we join in these recommendations of the fire department, and again invite the favorable attention of Congress to them. Unaided by congressional appropriation, or by increased revenue from taxes, the revenues of the District are not equal to the expenditure required for the additional facilities to the fire department.
In this connection it is proper to add, that the efficiency of the fire department is gratifyingly shown in the largely-reduced amount of losses from fires during the past year compared with former years, and its excellent condition in respect of its discipline and the economy of its management. We take pleasure in inviting the attention of Congress to its accompanying report.
We again invite the attention of Congress to the matter of the re-organization of the public charities of the District, to the end of having them put under the control of a commission, to which shall be intrusted the disbursement of all moneys appropriated by Congress or contributed by the District for the support of such charities, and which shall account for the same to the District authorities, under such regulations as shall be prescribed by law.
Under such a system Congress and the citizens of the District will be annually informed of the exact amount expended, and how expended, for the support of the public charities, and improved methods of economy and discipline will be introduced in their management.
The official term of the assessors of property within the District for taxation, ends June 30, 1877, with the existing tax-law. We suggest that the interests of the District will be promoted by the extension of the term of the office of assessors, which will secure more practical experience in the discharge of the duties of the office than can be expected under the present tenure of one year, and that such board be limited to three members, at an annual salary of fifteen hundred dollars each.
The attention of Congress is respectfully invited to a bill pending in the Senate, (S. 850,) “ To provide for the payment of outstanding certifi