Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/31

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
21
THE MOST EXPENSIVE CITY IN THE WORLD.

it was not, and the demand for more money from the public treasury has extended to every class of expenditure.

The city of New York is a purchaser in the open market of supplies exceeding in value $5,000,000 a year. This figure applies only to articles purchased without competitive bidding. There is in the charter a provision that all purchases of supplies and labor in excess of $1,000 shall be made by open competitive bidding. This leaves a wide field for fraud and favoritism, and it is an easy matter to evade the spirit and letter of the law relating to competition. If a department requires material and supplies amounting to $10,000, or even $50,000, it is often possible to make the purchases in lots of less than $1,000 from day to day, and thereby obey the letter of the law while permitting the grossest frauds against the city treasury.

Under the system that has grown up, protected by this imperfect legal restriction and opinions and decisions to the effect that the city has no defense against excessive claims unless fraud and conspiracy can be proved, robbery of the public treasury has not only been legalized, it has been made respectable. The comptroller, who is by law the auditor of accounts, may be able to show that the city has been charged double or treble the market rate for supplies purchased, yet under the legal opinions and decisions that have prevailed for two years he is not permitted to interpose any defense to an action to recover unless he can prove that there was a conspiracy or agreement to defraud. In the very nature of things it is next to impossible to secure legal evidence of such agreements; therefore the city has been robbed with impunity. The methods of the Tweed ring have long been out of date in the city of New York, and fraud upon the public treasury has become a respectable calling.

It is not easy—in fact, not possible—to determine accurately how much the expenses of the city have been increased in recent years by the lax interpretation of an imperfect law and the tolerance of a public sentiment that demands proof of crime on a large scale before becoming aroused to a condition of effective action. It is safe to say, however, that a perfect system of buying in the open market at the lowest prices obtainable, if honestly enforced, would save to the taxpayers more than $1,000,000 a year.

Honest and intelligent administration in every department of the city government would reduce expenditures, but the extent of the reduction that might be made would depend largely upon the proper amendment of certain laws, and to an even greater extent upon the development of a thoroughly informed public sentiment that would sustain retrenchment and economy. The expenses of