A Tax Scandal Unfolds in New Issues of Harnett County News

More issues of the Harnett County News have been added to our site thanks to our partner, the Harnett County Public Library. This latest batch spans from 1921-1930 and 1938-1945, encompassing some of the happenings of the county in the early twentieth century.

A newspaper advertisement reading, "Notice! to taxpayers: I will be in Dunn, at Commercial Bank, on Saturday, January 8th, 1921 to collect taxes. All who haven't paid will please meet me. The schools and roads are dependent upon local taxes, as I will have to reserve other funds to settle with State Treasurer, and for other purposes. J.W. McArtan, Sheriff, Harnett County.
From January 6, 1921

One such happening is the unresolved story of Sheriff J.W. McArtan, who also served as the county tax collector in the early 1920s. McArtan ran several ads in the Harnett County News reminding people to pay their taxes on time. One short article in the March 3, 1921 edition warned that those who failed to pay would be put on the county’s “delinquent list.”

But what happened to that tax money? Apparently, it didn’t all make it to schools and roads. An article in the December 18. 1924 edition reads: “Former Sheriff and His Bondsmen to Contest Claim: J.W. McArtan and Bonding Company to Make Denial of Statement that He Is $54,000 Short.” It goes on to explain, “The News is informed that J.W. McArtan, former sheriff and tax collector of Harnett county, has employed counsel to defend him in the matter of settlement with the county for moneys alleged to be due to the county by the sheriff.” According to the rest of the article, McArtan’s attorney argued that several of the books keeping the tax records had been taken out of McArtan’s office, so it was impossible to tell “how much money has been collected on the tax books since they were taken away… that is, [the auditor] does not know to which account moneys turned over to him may be credited, nor does he know for what year they were due.”

$54,000 is certainly a lot of money to be missing, even by today’s standards. But to put things into perspective, converted to the value of today’s dollars, McArtan was on the hook for about $937,250.

What happened to former sheriff McArtan? His name brings up a lot of results in the Harnett County News and other nearby papers, so it’s up to you to look and find out.

You can browse all available issues of the Harnett County News here and explore our digital newspaper collection by location, type, and date. For more information and materials from the Harnett County Public Library, you can visit their partner page and their website.

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