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. LOCAL FINANCE.—THE CONFIDING…

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LOCAL FINANCE.—THE CONFIDING ELECTOR. (From the Oswestry Advertizer.) There is nothing much more remarkable in our nationa life than the confiding character of the English ratepayer He grumbles when he sees the announcement of a new rate and he frowns upon the collector; but the implicit trust which he reposes in his representatives is a thing to be won- dered at more than almost anything else we can name. The amount of local taxation has increased in a comparatively short period from £8,000,000 to £ 16,000.000, and a very great portion of that immense sum is spent, we may truthfully say, as far as the ratepayers are concerned, in the dark. Without taking into account at present the considerable item of county expenditure, there is ample room for curious enquiry within the limits of Local Boards and Town Councils, particularly when we bear in mind that of the increase mentioned above no lpss than £ 5,000,000 is due to town improvements. Oswestry is a place where heavy rates are not altogether un- known, and that town will serve as well as any other to illustrate the singular eonfidingness" of the English rate- payer, although many of our remarks about it will, no doubt, apply with equal force to other places in Shropshire and Montgomeryshire. Oswestry has contributed no insignificant share to the growth of improvement rates," and every rate- payer is periodically conscious of the fact. He has to dip pretty deep down into his pocket for the money which has provided us with a somewhat less continuous supply of water than we had before, and a system of drainage that, on the whole, is satisfactory, and, probably, well worth the money spent upon it. But how much does the ratepayer know, financially, either about the muddle of the water supply, or the successful drainage system ? A formal statement has been made, no doubt, and there is a vague idea floating about the town tfiat so many thousands have been borrowed to carry out pub- lic works; but, such is the trustfulness of the ratepayer's nature, he leaves all the details to his aldermen and his town councillors. They may spend his money as they like, and drain his pockets almost as effectually as they drain his streets* without his ever asking to see their little bill. The alder- manic gown is often despised, and the councillor's seat un- envied but it is something to be trusted in implicitly, not only as honest citizens but also as perfect financiers, by a large bodv of one's fellow men, and we must protest against the estimate occasionally formed of civic dignities. The ratepayers, it is true, are not always careful to select the very best man that can be found. Beer, perhaps, with many of them, is as important an element in determining a vote, as the business qualifications or public spirit of the candidate; but, once elected, the councillor has no reason to complain of his constituents. In their eyes, the act of election has as much virtue as an ecclesiastical ffte in the eyes of the sacer- dotalist; and the man who, on the 8th of November, is a very indifferent citizen, on the 9th is a faultless member of the Local Authority, fit to be blindly entrusted with the manage- ment of the public purse. The law, it is true, is less confiding than the ratepayer, and requiries, in the case of Local Boards established where there'is no Town Council, that the accounts thall be published periodically in a newspaper, so that all those who supply the money may easily see how it is spent; but even in these cases, so great is the confidence reposed in Local Boards, the law, we believe, is often ignored. In old corporate towns, by an absurd anomaly, a similar publication is not required, and, although the accounts may be printed and obtained by those who enquire for them, they are, to all intents and purposes, never laid before the ratepayers. How many of our readers have any definite, or indeed indefinite, idea of the amount of public money annually expended in the district where they live? Or, if they know the amount in round numbers, how many of them are acquainted with the manner in which it is expended, or the channels through which the stream of rates from their pockets annually flows ? Do they pay their tailor without asking for his account ? Do they place that implicit confidence in their grocer which is so totichinglv ex- tended to their town councillor, and allow him to have their money on demand? The grocer and the town councillor may be one and the same person, but the ratepayer makes a delicate distinction between Mr BLANK behind the counter, and Councillor BLANK in the Council Chamber. We have mentioned S16,000 as the annual amount of local taxa- tion and we have no hesitation in saying that a very large proportion of it could be saved by judicious management. But it will never be saved by u confiding" ratepayers. A trustful disposition is a charming object of contemplation, especially when it is extended to men of an equally con- fiding nature, who, without the sinister intentions of the celebrated Chinee, Smile asthey sit by the table, With the smile that is childlike and bland, and, in their turn, contentedly leave the accounts to a com- mittee. But trustfulness does not always reap the reward of well-managed finance or, indeed, any reward at all that we can discover. It Is quite possible that the local representa- tives of all our readers are perfectly well-meaning men; and we should be sorry, indeed, if any remark of ours were under- stood to cast the smallest discredit upon the good intentions of Oswestry or any other Local Board; but, with all our respect for local parliaments and confiding ratepayers, we should like to see a disposition on the one side to know how the money is spent, and on the other, not only to spend it carefully, but also to give a full account of the expenditure in the most public manner possible. There was an instance only the other day, in which some hundreds of pounds were yearly saved in the Oswestry Incorporation, first by a little criticism, and then, a painstaking enquiry. No dishonesty was imputed; and it would be unjustifiable to bring whole- sale charges of even deliberate carelessness about the public money against our local representatives. It was better management that effected the saving we have referred to and it is impossible to say in how many other departments the same thing might be accomplished, and would b if the light of publicity were brought to bear upon local finance.

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