Kirby: Paychecks seemed smaller but idea was the same

History informs us of nothing new or strange.


– David Hume

It costs a lot of money to run Augusta.

We seem to have been debating that recently, but it has always been so.

Just look at the city budget of 1883 as reported in The Chronicle. There are so many jobs to do and everyone expected to get paid.

First the mayor.

In 1883 it was Robert May of May Park fame. Back then he ran things and as such he was the highest paid public employee — $2,500 a year.

OK, that’s in 1883 dollars, if we calculate it for inflation (there are numerous sites on the Internet) and convert it into today’s greenbacks it comes out to a modest $56,721 a year.

Next best? Well, the “money man,” officially known as the city “collector and treasurer.” He made $1,800 a year. ($40,839 today). The city engineer was paid $1,500, today’s $34,032.

The police chief made $1,300 ($29,494), his first lieutenant made $1,100 ($24,957), police sergeants made $700 ($15,881).

Individual cops? Well they made $50 ($1,134) a month, but had to pay the city for their uniforms which was handled in “monthly installments.”

Many of the most important civic jobs were paid $1,200 ($27,226) annually. These included the president of the Board of Health, the city recorder, the city attorney and each of the city’s two public doctors.

The city paid for public education. The president of the Houghton Institute got $1,200, and teachers in 1883 got $500 ($11,344), which was less than what was paid the city jailer ($800 or $18,150) or the city cemetery watchman, who made $600 ($13,613) annually. I guess the med students were still stealing cadavers.

Some jobs, we would find curious today. For example, the city’s two lamplighters each made $1,100 ($24,957), more than was paid the superintendent of streets and drains at $1,000 ($22,688).

The chain gang guard got $50 ($1,134) a month.

The keeper of the bridge got $1,125 ($25,524) a year, but he had to furnish his own deputy.

The keeper of the city clock only made $150 ($3,403) annually, but the keeper of the city hall got $600 ($13,613).

In all this, there did seem to be a respect for the public’s money because the conclusion of the city budget legal advertisement included a stern warning:

“Be it further ordained that no officer or employee of this city will be entitled to pay other than for services actually rendered. Deductions in all cases to be made where said officers or employees do not perform the services required of them.”

The pay may change, but the challenges don’t.


Reach Bill Kirby at



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