The Ashburton Guardian, COUNTY AGRICULTURAL & SPORTING RECORDER TUESDAY, MAY 11, 1880.
The letter of Messrs. Harper, Harper, and Scott, to the Wakanui Road Board is anything but a pleasant pill for that Board to swallow, inasmuch as it cuts the ground from under their feet in the matter of recovering the rates that ought to be levied on the abortion of a roll prepared by the blundering valuator whom the County Council chose for the district. Mr. Leach, the valuator who was unfortunate enough, both for himself and the County, to be the successful tenderer for the -work of assessing property in the Ashburton, has not in any way graced the position he attained, and his work is not by any means a testimony to the wisdom of our County Councillors. True, the best of men may make a mistake, and doubtless the County Councillors very much regret the blunder they made in appointing Mr. Leach. His low-priced tender may have been tempting —it was tempting—and had he been competent for the position he aimed at, he would have been a grand catch indeed. But he was not competent, as the result hasonly too sadly proved, and the County, in selecting him, fell into the error of choosing an article because it was cheap, and not making themselves certain at the same time that it was not also nasty. Mr. Leach’s appointment was a mistake, and the .County is a loser by it. But it will be a* good lesson. In the future choice of
men for difficult positions we shall certainly see more care exercised, and a closer scrutiny made of their alleged qualifications. The valuation fiasco , too, will have the effect of sending home the truth that the lowest tender is not always the cheapest, and that where skill is required the cheapest man is he who, able for his work, is willing to do it at a reasonable figure. Poor Mr. Leach now occupies a most humiliating positions. Ho has most signally failed to produce a roll that is any good in any district, and in some instances what was intended by his appointment, to he avoided has again been resorted to, —viz., other valuators have been chosen to do the work. And now we find the blundering and incompetent roll maker coining whining to his employers to be paid for work he has tried to do and failed, and which must be done over again by some better qualified men, if the rolls are ever to be of any service to the district. The idea of the County Council, to have only one valuator for the whole of the shire—was an excellent one in its way, and at its first suggestion it commended itself to every one. It held out a prospect of uniformity and fairness, as the work being one of some magnitude was likely to attract tenders from men of experience, ability, and sound judgment. The work did attract such tenders, no doubt, and we know one or two men who tcndei'cd who had the ability, the experience, the energy, and the will to do the work well and satisfactorily. But their price was high compared with the tender of Mr. Leach. He seems to have formed no conception whatever of the extent of the work he took on hand ; his sad muddling shows that he had very little notion even of the nature of it ; and from the fact that scarcely a dozen settlers in the district knew the man “ by head-mark,” it is evident he has not put himself to any trouble by actual personal judgment to ascertain the value of the property on which he placed his prices. The tender of such a man for the position of County Valuator was far more an impertinence than it was a farce, and, instead of being paid for what he may dignity with the title of roll making, he would only get his deserts if he were mulct in all the costs, the loss and trouble represent that the country has been put to by his imprudent application for a position for which the present deadlock with the Wakanui Road Board shows him to have been in no way fitted. Indeed, actions for expenses against him are spoken of, and it will be no matter for surprise if some of the landowners who have been put to trouble through his blundering seek to indemnify themselves at his expense in a Court of law.
But the whole blame does not lie with Mr. Leach, upon whom it is useless to be too severe. He applied for a position that was put up to public tender, and he got it. The system is surely faulty that makes it possible for such as he has turned out to be, to obtain a position to which so much responsibility attached as to that of valuer for the County. Speaking generally, and without reference to any one in particular who applies for a valuer’s position, any fool who fancies himself, in his own conceit, equal to the task of valuing property may tender, and if he can prevail upon kind-hearted friends to furnish testimonials —and every one knows how easy some men can secure these gushing documents nowadays—and manages to tender low enough, he may succeed in casting dust in the eyes of a few country gentlemen, who, with no personal knowledge of the tenderer, have only his gushing testimonials to guide them. Trusting to the testimonials, and allured by the low figure, they may be induced, quite innocently, to let their work to the veriest failure that ever picked up a shabby genteel living by occasional clerkly drudgery in a lawyer’s office, or periodical employment at a shoemaker’s books, or when a Hoad Board Clerk had more to do than he was equal to or cared to. The testimonials, however acquired, will sway those who sit in judgment on the tenders, if they are backed up by a sufficiently modest figure of remuneration, and the result is—an incompetent man is employed who muddles his work. ' A certain amount of blame for muddles of this kind lies with the body who makes the appointment. But more, we contend, lies with their constituents, or rather the noisy portion of them who are ever on the howl against extravagance, and are constantly ready to raise a cry about favoritism or wild expenditure if the very lowest tender is not accepted—whether the man putting it in be or be not the veriest duffer that ever essayed a work, and a man of straw, who, just clear of the Bankuptcy Court, borrows his deposit, and would have to give an order on the Board to his merchant for the material he requires to execute the work were he successful in obtaining it. The valuation roll for Wakanui, even after its items have passed through the not very effective filter, the Assessment Court,—-and the Judges of Assessment Courts are not always possessed of qualifications for that position equal even to those possessed by Mr. Leach, —is a mockery and a snare ; and from the legal opinion of the lawyers consulted it is evident that some trouble will have to be experienced before it becomes workable. That it will be made wox-kable we have little doubt. But does not the huge humbug that has followed the valuation of-the County point to the wisdom of Government taking the whole system of valuation into its own hands ? Now that extensive machinery is at work for the assessment of property under the Property Tax, does it not seem to be wise that competent men should make one general valuation for all purposes '! An objection has been raised to this suggestion that in the hands of a Government official the valuations would be excessive, with a view to getting the best return to the general revenue. Granted that the possibility of that contingency exists, the Assessment Appeal Court would always remain, and for local rating a lower rate could easily be struck if the Government valuation was felt to be higher than that of the locally appointed man. One end at least would be gained by the adoption of a general system —the men who undertook the duty would be skilled valuers, working under a uniform system and standard of value, and their valuations, whether high or low as compared with those of the amateurs who have hitherto done the work, would at least be uniform. We never j’et met the man who -was wholly satisfied with the value set upon his property for rating purposes. It is always too high, too high. But when the same property appears in the market to let or sell the value seems to have become amazingly enhanced.