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Ashland Taxpayers Association

 

I had the privilege of serving on the Zoning Board of Appeals for a number of years and one of my favorite ways to kill an hour or so before a meeting was to go upstairs in the Town Hall and read Town Clerk records from the 1800’s. This was before the latest restoration of the building, and everything was in boxes stacked-up all over the place.

The journals were moldy and yellowed with age, but once opened they were alive once more. I saw an entry next to the poor farm allocation for 1888 if I remember the date correctly and the clerk made a change to the dollar figure entered. He used a pencil for his work and erased the original figures entered. The pieces of the eraser were still in the binding and at the bottom of the page almost as if the correction just occurred. For one brief moment, time stood still.

I recently ran across a journal of the the Ashland Taxpayers Association and it was déjà vu. It too was moldy and yellow, but this time it was a little closer to our time.

So what was the Ashland Taxpayers Association, who were involved, and when were they active? The names and dates were interesting. Let’s go back to 1953.

The taxpayer watchdog movement was in full swing in the early ‘50s. An organization had already formed in the ‘30’s to unify local cities and towns under the name of the Massachusetts Federation of Taxpayers Associations and they were growing steadily. Their mission was to recruit members in every community to form local chapters with a common cause. These local chapters formed committees to review the operation of town government with the intent to curb waste and unbridled spending. Their information pamphlet cited “minority pressure groups are organized to dip in the public treasury” and that “taxpayers must organize to protect themselves, the public and government against these raids” This was just one of the 10 reasons the federation cited as reasons we needed to band together. The other nine were a little less bold, but I’m not sure any of this would fly in today’s politically correct climate. But what was Ashland’s involvement?

From the first entry in the journal of the newly formed Ashland Taxpayers Association:

“The first meeting of he Ashland Taxpayers Association was held in the Community House on November 25, 1953 at 8:00 PM with Robert J. Tarte Acting Chairman.”

 The entry went on to elect officers for the forthcoming term: Robert J. Tarte as President, Warren A. Dodge as Vice President, Harry Albinger as Treasurer, and Charles A. Horne as Secretary. It was respectfully submitted by Charles A. Horne, Secretary.

Ok, they are off to the races. Their first target was sewerage in Ashland. They invited members of the different town boards and committees to speak. Mr. Kenneth Edmunds from the Sewerage Committee presented the status of the sewer problem in Ashland. Also attending was a representative of the Mass State Association (of taxpayers) who promised to share his information with Ashland if they wished to “affiliate” with the state. I’m not sure why that caveat needed to be in place, but Ashland apparently agreed. Subsequent meetings created committees to study zoning, attend Finance Committee meetings, and propose changes for inclusion on the Town Warrant.

By the  Spring of 1954, enough committees were formed but needed membership to fill them. A membership drive was suggested, and a Publicity Committee was formed (another committee?). It was not clear how many new members were added to the association by this endeavor, but it appeared to have worked. There was a list of 48 members included in the minutes of May 17, 1955.

Committee reports were coming in and recommendations were discussed. Property re-evaluation, the creation of a Public Works department, and the issue of town water were the main concerns. The issue of expanded public services due to the growth of Ashland began as the year approached 1956. The Ashland Association appeared to be following the guidelines of the State Association regarding common issues facing the cities and towns, as well as increasing the association’s membership. 

By this time, my dad, John Leacu, was secretary of the association. He had been a member since 1955. His entries in the journal were similar in scope to all the previous secretaries. I vaguely remember him speak about the association in later years, but I knew he was a committed member. His last entry in the journal was June of 1956. He simply recorded that the meeting was called to order at 8 PM and that “It was agreed to suspend all further meetings until a specific necessity arose.”

Like any other organization, the members reach a peak of participation and sometimes more time is spent on retention than on the issues that brought them together in the first place. Perhaps this was the case. I never asked Dad.

 

 

References: “Ten Reasons Why – “, a publication of the Massachusetts Federation of Taxpayers Associations, Inc.

 

Journal of the Ashland Taxpayers Association

 

Steve Leacu for Directions

December 2015