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Archive for June 25th, 2009

During a brief visit to my parents’ home earlier this month (with Steve, Jenna, Tim and Merry), Mom shared a humorous story regarding what was probably Granddad X.T.’s last term as Tax Commissioner of The State of Iowa (about 1967). It seems that for many years, property and personal taxes were calculated after an unwelcome, personal visit and inventory of an individual’s possessions by an agent from the County Assessor’s office. Homeowners’ taxes were based not only on the value of their homes, but also on all of their possessions inside the home — including their air conditioners!

In the heat of summer that year, my parents’ window-unit had stopped working and they were lucky to find a previously owned, reconditioned air conditioner for the bargain price of $25; however, when it came time for their visit by the agent from the County Assessor’s office, he wanted to tax them $75 for it. Mom was appalled that a $25 air conditioner would cost them $75 a year in taxes, but the man insisted his chart showed a greater value for that model and year, and he was merely basing the tax on the figures in his chart. She then told him she’d just call the Tax Commissioner to find out if that was right. The man scoffed and snidely retorted, “What makes you think you’ll ever be put through to the Tax Commissioner of the State?”  To that Mom replied,  “He just happens to be my father-in-law, that’s why!”  Without further comment and seemingly in a state of shock, the gentleman from the Assessor’s office hastily put all his papers into a briefcase and rushed out the door.  Upon reaching his car, he placed the briefcase, unfastened, on the top of his car while he unlocked the door.

As if an omen that justice would be served, a huge clap of thunder, accompanied by pouring rain and a blast of wind blew his briefcase to the ground, scattering papers everywhere! After retrieving them in the wind and rain for well over an hour, the Assessor’s agent left the neighborhood, never to return.  The following week, the story was related to Granddad.  Shortly after that, the practice of going to the home and taxing personal property was abolished.  The $25 window air conditioner functioned for many years after that — without ever being taxed!

Adding to the story, Dad said that one of the things within a home that could affect taxes substantially was whether or not one had made improvements to the basement, and that even if not fully finished into additional living, bedroom, or utility space, certain other improvements could raise taxes, such as a ceiling or improved flooring.

When I was a kid, we did like to use our basement for recreation or just to cool off on a hot summer day, but for financial reasons, finishing our basement like our neighbor had done was not a priority.  One of the disadvantages to having an unfinished basement was that there was no ceiling to help eliminate cobwebs and dust in the overhead floor rafters and bracing, but in order not to increase the amount of those dreaded personal property taxes in addition to our house payment, we opted instead for multicolored tile flooring (covering just some main sections of the floor) and a home decorating suggestion offered by Dad’s brother Richard (Dick) who owned a hatchery and egg business with Granddad.

Cardboard egg flats stapled to the rafters apparently did not qualify for any improvement tax increases, and Dick said he could furnish all that we needed (each flat, designed to hold three dozen eggs, was used by their business to make up cases of thirty dozen eggs). Once attached as a “ceiling,” his idea from someone who had already done it, was to paint the flats for an “interesting antique effect.”

With stacks and stacks of square egg flats in our possession, we attempted to staple them to the rafters. No matter which direction we turned them or how creative we got, they didn’t easily fit. Finally the main rooms were covered, but flats were constantly falling and having to be reattached. Needless to say, we were not pleased with the results and never completed the entire “ceiling.”

As a child, the basement was my playhouse. I played with my friends and dolls in my child-size kitchen and roller skated on the concrete.  When Tim and I were older, we spent many hours in the basement shooting pool, entertaining friends, and playing albums and 45s on the stereo.  We even had furniture, a TV, freezer, and an extra shower there to use when needed — and if I pulled the cord into the stairway, sat on the steps and closed the door, I had a perfect phone booth. Mom did our laundry and mending there, and I found the pool table made a pretty good cutting table for my own sewing projects later on. After Tim and I grew up and an addition to the house was built, the basement wasn’t used much anymore. Still unfinished, it now only houses the furnace, water heater, dehumidifier, miscellaneous junk and family memorabilia — and a few egg flats stubbornly attached or dangling from the rafters here and there.

Growing up, the unfinished basement and its egg flat “ceiling” looked okay to me. None of the flats were ever painted for the antique effect — those that remain achieved antiquity by sheer perseverance.

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