Administrative History

RG 1: Municipality of the District of Argyle Tax Assessors’ & Tax Collectors’ Fonds. — 1850-1986. — 16.03 meters of textual records.

Compiled by – Colin Bourque
Compiled – November 1997
HTML Revision – April 28, 2001

The Township of Argyle was established in southwestern Nova Scotia by the provincial government in 1771. From 1771 until 1784 Argyle Township was located within the boundaries of Queens County. After the arrival of some 10,000 Loyalists at Shelburne in 1783 ,the provincial government subdivided Queens County in 1784 , and created Shelburne County, which included of all of modern day Shelburne and Yarmouth Counties. Finally in 1836 the present day County of Yarmouth was created. The boundaries of the Township of Argyle were altered only one time 1832, and other than that one alteration the boundaries have remained the same, regardless of the county in which it was located.

As with all local governments in Nova Scotia during the 18th century the primary functions carried out by the officials of the Township of Argyle were tax assessment and collection, care of the poor, construction and repair of roads, control of petty crime and the regulation of livestock. The Justices of the Peace, appointed by the government in Halifax , presided over the Courts of General Session of the Peace, which were the equivalent of modern day meetings of town or municipal council. The Justices appointed various officials to carry out this work.

Of all the functions of local government the assessment of property and the subsequent collection of taxes levied, ranked as the first and most important function, for all of their other activities depended upon this source of revenue. The taxes collected were used to attend to local expenses and a portion was submitted to the provincial government. Some of these funds were returned by the provincial government in the form of road grants and other grants made for specific purposes.

The earliest original minute books for the Court of General Sessions for the Township of Argyle are found at the Public Archives of Nova Scotia [PANS microfilm #RG 34-324]. These minutes start in 1789 and extend into the 1850s. [Our archives holds a microfilm copy of these minutes]. The second minute book, which begins in April 1856, and extends up to the time of municipal in incorporation, is held by our archives. The sessions were held twice a year for the area, one session being held in Yarmouth Township and one in Argyle Township. Special additional sessions were also called as needed. It is clear from these minutes that as early as 1792 the Justices were appointing “Assessors of Rates & Taxes” as well as collectors.

From 1792 onward, a number of assessors and collectors were appointed each year, to serve in the various geographic areas of the sparsely settled Township. Although there was obviously an understanding regarding the area covered by the assessors and collectors, it was not until 1864 that official district numbers appeared in the minute books, suggesting that official boundaries had been established for same. The earliest surviving partial assessment roll for the Township of Argyle, found in this fonds, is for the year 1864.

The Township of Argyle became the Municipality of the District of Argyle upon municipal incorporation in 1879 and the first municipal election was held on Tuesday 18 November 1879. There were initially five municipal electoral districts and six councilors elected: the Tusket district, being a very large one geographically, elected two councilors.

District 5 Plymouth & Tusket Wedge
District 6 Tusket, Belleville, Quinan, Gavelton, Hubbard’s Point, Amirault’s Hill Sluice Point
District 7 Argyle & Islands
District 8 Pubnico (West, East, Head)
District 9 Kemptville

After municipal incorporation assessors and tax collectors were appointed in each of these districts on an annual basis.

At the first meeting after the municipal election, which was usually the annual meeting held in January, the Councilors would elect from amongst themselves the Warden who would preside over the Council activities for the three year term. It was also at this time that the various municipal officials, including assessors and tax collectors were appointed. Council was obliged to hold at least two regular meetings each year: the annual meeting, held on the fourth Tuesday of January, and the semi-annual meeting, held on the first Tuesday of May. For many years these were the only meetings Council required to attend to the business of the municipality. Gradually, however, special meetings were held more and more frequently as they proved necessary to deal with the growing responsibilities of local government.

Tax Assessment & Collection

Tax Assessment, 1864-1955

It was the role of the tax assessors within each district of the township or municipality to make a fair evaluation of the property holdings of its residents, compile an assessment roll for the district and to keep this up-to-date. The provincial government obviously supplied assessment guidelines and may have provided some limited training as well. These assessment rolls were then submitted to the Town or Municipal Clerk, and from 1864 to 1941, were issued on annual basis in a published format, available to the public at large. The Court of Sessions, and later Municipal Council, set the tax rates for the area. These included taxes on real property, personal property (i.e. furniture, boats, lobster traps, etc.) , poll tax and during various periods poor tax, school tax, fire tax and a dog tax. The completed assessment rolls were used by the Clerk to compile a Tax Rate Roll, which actually itemized the amount of tax owed by each citizen.

The tax assessors did have various record keeping tools which they employed to assist them with the annual revision of assessment records. Some early documents dating from 1864-1924, called “Assessment Schedules”, provide detailed records on how assessments were arrived at on individual properties. From 1887 until 1927 the assessors completed a pre-printed form on each property which was entitled “Notices to Rate Payers.” The title suggests that tax payers may have received a copy of this document as well. These notices captured a wide range of information on property owners within the municipality.

Tax Assessment, 1956-1986

As early as 1953 many complaints were beginning to arise throughout the municipality regarding irregular methods of property assessment. At the same time the Council was beginning to suspect that there was a great deal more taxable property in the municipality than that which was showing up on their assessment rolls. Nevertheless, it was 1956 before it was finally agreed that a reassessment of properties throughout the entire municipality was required and as a result a permanent assessment office was set up. At this time Arthur B. Wathen was appointed Chief Assessor & Neri Surette Assistant Assessor. They were salaried employees responsible for carrying out property assessment for the entire municipality. The appointment of assessors for each individual district ceased.

In 1969 the Yarmouth-Clare Regional Assessment Committee, a jointly funded regional assessment service, was established. In 1977 the provincial government took over sole responsibility for assessment and the municipal governments ceased to be involved. For a time a field assessment office for Argyle, containing property field cards, was maintained in the Court House and, after 1976, in the new Municipal Office, but this ceased around 1978. Since that time the assessment office has been located in the Provincial Building on Starr’s Road in Yarmouth.

There are two complete sets of assessment field cards for the municipality for the time periods 1958-1962 and 1963-1968. These field cards are the modern equivalent of the earlier “Assessment Schedules” and “Notices to Rate Payers” maintained prior to 1958.

Although tax assessors probably dealt with some complaints from rate payers, the majority of tax complaints appear to have been handled by the Municipal Clerk, and the Warden and Councilors. The general correspondence of the municipality contains many letters from rate payers pertaining to assessment matters.

Tax Collection, 1864-1986

For the period 1792 to 1920 tax collectors were appointed for each district within the municipality, as were the assessors . From 1921 there was one tax collector responsible for the collection of taxes for the entire municipality. His job was a solitary and peripatetic one, since it was the tax collector’s role to go out into the municipality and collect tax from residents at their homes. Norman B. Hatfield was the tax collector in 1921 and he remained in this position until 1953 or 1954. The Council then chose to have the Municipal Clerk act as tax collector for a brief period. Consequently, Cyriac Boudreau became tax collector and, in addition to his salary as Clerk, was paid a percentage of the taxes he collected.

In June 1957 Arthur B. Wathen and Neri Surette (Chief Assessor and Assistant Assessor) were appointed joint tax collectors as well, for the entire municipality. In 1959 Anthony Bourque replaced Arthur Wathen (who remained as Assessor) as collector, a position he held until 1971.

In 1972 Municipal Council decided that no municipal tax collector would be hired, and that collection would take place only at the Municipal Office, and be carried out by the staff in general. At this time Rosie [Mrs. Trafton] White, one of the office employees acted as the main tax collector as well as the book-keeper for the municipality. So the duties of tax collector were carried out without anyone holding the actual title. Patricia Bourque [later Scoville] was hired in 1976, she acted in an assistant capacity with tax collection and other office work. Upon the retirement of Rosie White in 1977, Patsy (Bourque) Scoville moved into her former position. At that time she became the main tax collector (without the title), and Peggy Muise was hired as an assistant. In the early 1980′s Peggy Muise was named the official Tax Collector for the municipality. In 1989 she chose to job-share and turn her position into a half-time one. Since that time [until 1997] she has been the Senior Tax Collector while Sheila (Surette) Wilson holds the position of Assistant Tax Collector.