The city of Jamestown was broke in January of 1890.
The Jamestown Alert announced there was a public meeting planned to discuss the issue. The newspaper article said the City Council hoped for good attendance in the hopes that many minds could find a solution to the problem.
Council members and public met “to consider ways and means for meeting expenses of the city during the coming year.”
Further down the article it was noted the city was about $2,000 short of meeting its expenses. Adjusted for 130 years of inflation, that would be about $57,000 today.
Revenues for the city in that era mostly came from saloon licenses. The problem was the saloons of Jamestown had already paid their fees through the middle of the year and those licenses couldn’t be raised. With prohibition going into effect as part of the new North Dakota Constitution, that revenue wouldn’t continue.
“It had been understood that the saloon men would agree to pay a certain amount each month,” wrote the Alert. “If they would be guaranteed freedom from arrest until July 1.”
Other options included cutting salaries and staff. Members of the public suggested cutting the monthly wage of the city clerk and attorney to $100 and eliminating the city treasurer position and have the work done by the Stutsman County Treasurer.
The articles didn’t mention how much that would save but it obviously wasn’t enough.
“Citizens were requested to repair their own sidewalks,” continued the Alert. “If not done, it was recommended that the repairs be made and the cost of doing so assessed against the property.”
Actually, I think that is still the policy for sidewalk repair.
Another idea put a fee on businesses in Jamestown. Suggestions ranged from $10 to $50 per year for every commercial enterprise in the city.
As you would expect, it wasn’t popular with one businessman, suggesting it only charged on billiard halls and another saying the biggest fees should only be paid by banks in town.
There was no discussion on the police or fire departments as it appears the city didn’t provide funds for either. The fire department was a volunteer group and the city “watchman” was paid based on the amount of fines paid by people he arrested.
Another suggestion was to charge a “water privilege” fee for every home even if it had its own well.
“All the suggestions were in line with the new and pinching order of things entailed upon us by the prohibition law,” wrote the Alert.
Only one suggestion was dismissed by the City Council.
A suggestion to charge “peddlers and hucksters” a special fee was noted to have recently been found to be an unconstitutional interference with interstate commerce in a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in a case from another city.