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Fremont County Time Capsule

posted Apr 13, 2017, 7:52 AM by James Nennemann
By: Harry Wilkins

The Fremont County Financial Report of 1923 is an encyclopedia of government finances, programs, and officeholders, a treasure trove of information about life in rural Iowa during what became known as the Roaring Twenties.

Written by the county auditor, the 51-page booklet includes many figures familiar to modern eyes, among them personnel expenses. The three county supervisors were paid $5.00 per day for services while other fulltime elected officials received an annual income. Sheriff Millard Abshire earned a salary of $1,800 (about $25,000 in today’s dollars) while the highest paid professional was County Engineer Fred Cain, at $3,000 per year. A wide range of costs were included in the report, many broken down by township and often attached to figures from prior years to gauge the spending trend. One important line item was care for the poor. The County Home located south of Sidney held 26 indigent residents, referred to as “inmates” but free to leave at will, at a cost of $16,695. There was also a 244 acre County Farm where unemployed men worked for $22 per month. The farm was fully functional, maintaining livestock and producing 1,000 bushels of corn and 70 tons of hay; revenues produced were returned to the county. The taxpayers also supported the mentally disabled at $9,875, up from $6,890 in 1919, and the Soldiers and Sailors Relief program for $818, down $428 from 1919.

Financing public education was a large expense, then as today. Fremont County maintained 31 school districts which included 12 rural independent schools in Benton Township, and seven consolidated schools in Bartlett, Farragut, Randolph, Riverton, Sidney, Tabor and Thurman. There were 64 one-room schools, down ten from the previous year, and the payroll for 181 grade and high school teachers. Total disbursements were over $240,000.

The 1923 budget provided funding for modern conveniences not known in earlier times. The Sidney Court House accepted money for necessities like electricity, adding machines, telephones, sewage disposal and even $60.48 for typewriter repairs. But the biggest fiscal shift underway was courtesy of the Detroit auto industry. The auditor documented ownership of 7,300 horses in the county along with 3,600 registered automobiles, 350 trucks and eight motorcycles. The numbers were trending sharply up for motor vehicles which meant roads and bridges would need improvement. Funding for the 445 miles of gravel roads in the county was followed closely by paving projects on primary roads: 100 miles of hardtop were in use by the end of the year. Other infrastructure projects were also being financed. The County Bridge Fund expended $76,628 on construction, repair and maintenance in 1923, an increase of almost $23,000 from 1919.

Signs of a bygone era are evident in the report: bounties were paid for wolves ($376) and gophers ($330) and for animals killed by dogs and wolves. But signaling that the pioneer days were long gone and civilization had arrived, there was a single entry for the collection of dog licensing fees: $22.00.