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"Hindsights"

Looking back at:

Drama at the Tax Office

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr

The drama outside the Gillespie County Tax Office wasn't a quarrel over assessed values, exemptions or tax rates. It wasn't a political dispute between Democrats and Tea Party Republicans. It wasn't followed by a fistfight, a duel, a letter to the editor or a tweet.

The citizens who gathered on that cool October morning weren't upset about paying taxes. It may be hard to believe, but they were arguing about who would be the first in line to PAY taxes.

Bill Petmecky, Gillespie County Tax Assessor-Collector, wasn't sure what to expect when he got to the office bright and early on Monday, October 2, 1950 - the first day of the year to pay state, county and poll taxes.

Petmecky, along with just about everyone else in Gillespie County, was curious to see who would show up that morning to take the place of Carl Feuge, local rancher, renowned gunsmith and the county's first tax payer for as long as anyone could remember.

Carl Theodore Feuge was a patriot. He took pride in paying taxes. He had been first in line at the tax office every year since at least 1929.

But Carl Feuge died of a heart attack in his workshop in October 1949, and everyone wondered who would step up and take his place.

The morning was only a warm glow in the eastern sky when Bill Petmecky arrived at the Gillespie County Courthouse in Fredericksburg just before 6am. Darkness had not lifted. There was a chill in the morning air.

Already 3 men waited at the front door and another man at a side door. Each of them had gotten up before the chickens hoping to be the county's first taxpayer.

Bill Petmecky assumed the men would pay their taxes in order of arrival, but there was a problem. When he asked who was first in line, 2 men stepped forward.

Arthur O. C. Rabke, Crabapple stock farmer, said he was the first to arrive at the courthouse that morning but after waiting at the door for a while in the cool weather went back to his car to get warm.

James Evers, Fredericksburg livestock dealer, did not deny that Rabke was first to arrive but claimed Rabke gave up his no. 1 spot to go back to his car.

Gilbert Kaderli, Humble Oil Agent, admitted he was third to appear and humbly stepped aside.

Felix Jacoby, Fredericksburg merchant, made no claim to be first in line but with Gilbert Kaderli left the question to be settled between Rabke and Evers.

But neither party would budge. The situation seemed at an impasse.

Then Kaderli, in his usual genial fashion, offered to settle the dispute by flipping a coin. Rabke and Evers agreed.

Rabke won the toss and stepped to the front of the line. Evers fell in behind Rabke.

Kaderli asked Jacoby to be third in line and then took the fourth spot.

Rabke, exempt by age from paying a poll tax, paid his property tax.

Evers was happy to receive the no. 1 poll tax receipt.

Soon the tax office was a busy place for just after 6 in the morning. Emil Weber, retired stonemason, came in to pay taxes for himself and his son, Werner.

Felix Heep, Fredericksburg Barber, paid property taxes on his home and his business. Felix owned City Barber Shop at 228 E. Main Street where Vaudeville Restaurant is today.

An additional 49 citizens paid property taxes the first day, taking advantage of the 3 percent discount for paying in October. Thirty-eight citizens paid their poll taxes.

Tax payments that first day were unusually high even though the tax office closed from 2 to 4 that afternoon so county employees could attend the funeral of Bill Heimann, courthouse custodian.

Even with a shortened work day, taxes collected totaled $3,365.54, which wouldn't pay the yearly taxes on a modest house in Fredericksburg in 2019.

That's outrageous.

I think I'll write a letter to the editor. I don't know how to tweet.

Michael Barr
"Hindsights" January 1, 2020 Column

Sources:
"Coin Toss Needed To Determine First Taxpayer," Fredericksburg Standard, October 4, 1950.


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    "Hindsights" by Michael Barr

  • The Mysteries of Buffalo Cave 12-15-19
  • O. Henry in Fredericksburg 12-1-19
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  • Emil Sauer - Diplomat and Adventurer 11-1-19
  • J. L. Yarborough - A Passion for Baseball 10-15-19

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