More accountability for special districts needed
by Cris Ritchie
We have to wonder now, after an interview with state Auditor Adam Edelen last week, why is it that there exists no comprehensive list of special taxing districts in Kentucky. Edelen told us last week that after calling two separate state agencies, neither could provide him with a list of every special district in the Kentucky.
Special taxing districts exist, ideally speaking, to increase local funds for certain areas of need. The library here in Hazard, for instance, levies a tax to provide the community with an otherwise free library full of books, films and an excellent genealogy department. All that is required to use it a free-or-charge library card, and their charging a small tax each year makes that library possible.
Edelen provided as reasonable explanation as to the lack of a complete list as any we’ve heard before. Quite simply, these districts have been operating somewhat under the public’s radar for years, and it was going to take some political courage to place the spotlight on these districts and leave it there.
We think it’s telling that we called more than one local government office here in Perry County, and only one could tell us how many special districts there are in the county. For the record, there are 12, five of which that collect taxes from local taxpayers.
While we certainly do not believe that the districts here in Perry County (which also include the soil conservation district and health department) are up to no good, there does seem to be a need for more oversight. At present, local government oversight is sparse to nonexistent. Once a year the districts are required to submit their budgets to the fiscal court that has no ability to question of alter those budgets. The court merely enters those budgets into the public record. But from there, we would wager, very few people take the time to look at them.
Auditor Edelen, frankly, hit the nail on the head when he noted, “If you’ve got the ability to take from the taxpayers, you ought to have to be accountable to them.” Naturally, these special districts are accountable to the taxpayers, but we agree that there could be more light shining from both the county seats and from Frankfort.
As it stands, we’re simply not sure how much accountability there is with our taxing districts from a taxpayer’s standpoint. And when that’s the case, something needs to be done.
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