TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

Local News

November 29, 2012

Mixed ideas on special tax districts

CORBIN — By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service

Some lawmakers Wednesday indicated they want special taxing districts to get approval of tax rates from fiscal courts, but that might not be the best idea, according to the man who started the conversation about Kentucky’s myriad special tax districts.

State Auditor of Public Accounts Adam Edelen reviewed the system of taxing districts set up to fund libraries, water and sewer districts, conservation districts, fire departments and other public services and found more than 1,200 of them spending more than $2.7 billion annually with little oversight.

More troubling, Edelen says, the districts operate without any real accountability, essentially forming “a ghost government.”

His review and report recommends making those districts issue uniform reports to the state Department of Local Government, make them subject to audit by his office, require them to submit information to the auditor’s office for publication on a public website, and make them subject to the ethics codes of their local county governments.

Edelen made all those points Wednesday to the Local Government committee, but some lawmakers want to go farther and give fiscal courts the power to set the tax rates of those special taxing districts.

“Wouldn’t you agree that any tax for any district should have to be approved by the local governing body?” Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, asked Edelen.

“No sir, I wouldn’t,” Edelen said. “I think that’s good in theory but it breaks down in practice.”

Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, agreed with Lee, saying such taxing districts now represent taxation without representation.

Most of the districts, however, were established by the local governments who saw the need for a service but wanted to avoid the public unhappiness over increased taxes. And most of the governing boards of those districts are appointed by local governments – though not all.

Other districts, such as some libraries, were established by petition or voter referendum. It’s unclear if the legislature can change the rules for those established by referenda.

But in Pulaski County there is already a petition drive to dissolve the local library board. The library is paying off a 20-year bond for a building and even if the board is dissolved, the tax will remain in place until the bond is paid off.

Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, who chairs the Local Government Committee, said he will sponsor legislation which reflects Edelen’s recommendations but he also said he expects other lawmakers to offer amendments to give the taxing power back to fiscal courts.

Later Wednesday, House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, told county officials at the Kentucky Association of Counties meeting in Louisville that he will sponsor a bill incorporating Edelen’s recommendations without stripping the districts of the power to tax.

“I don’t think you want the responsibility of placing a tax for a volunteer fire department or library,” he told the officials.

Not everyone agreed.

Whitley County Judge/Executive Pat White said fiscal court gets blamed for those taxes by local taxpayers but has no control over setting the tax rates.

Warren County Judge/Executive Mike Buchanon agreed.

“When the rate goes up, we get the blame for it, so why shouldn’t we have some say in setting the rate?” Buchanon asked.

Others aren’t so sure.

Greg Wilson, Metcalfe County Judge/Executive, said he doesn’t think his magistrates want the responsibility. “I don’t think they want that back in their hands,” he said.

Greenup County Judge/Executive Bobby Carpenter and Rowan County Judge/Executive Jim Nickell agreed, both noting that most of theirs are well managed and most of the money is collected by the health department or local library, neither of which their counties want to manage.

Carpenter said that as long as the special taxing districts keep adequate records and submit those to the appropriate authorities, such as budgets and periodic audits, he doesn’t see a problem with the present system.

One of Edelen’s findings was that many districts failed to submit budgets to fiscal courts as they are required to do or undergo regular audits.

Edelen listed several of those in his original report and on the first day or so of the public website his office established. But some of those entries were incorrect.

Various special taxing districts in Barren, LaRue, Madison and Wayne counties were listed as non-compliant in some form or another when in fact those districts were up to date on all reporting requirements.

Edelen said Wednesday those problems “were all taken care of in the first 48 hours,” but it’s caused some disgruntlement and confusion with some health departments, extension and conservation districts.

Nickell said he’s not heard so many complaints about the districts as he has from the districts about the survey Edelen conducted.

“All I’ve heard is complaints from the people who had to fill out the forms,” Nickell said.

Stumbo and Edelen were expected to hold a Thursday press conference to announce his sponsorship of the measure which he will make House Bill 1, usually reserved for the Speaker’s top legislative priority.

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.

1
Text Only
Local News
  • 0801 Honor pic 6 FOR WEB.jpg A Well-Deserved Honor

    It was a spring night in May 1981 about eight or so miles south of Corbin.
    A crowd of folks were there — mothers, fathers, children and more.
    Musicians had prepared for a night of music at a concert open to the public.
    The venue was the Frontier Village Park, and many people were in attendance.
    Deputy Joseph Russell Jones was one of many law enforcement personnel assigned to security detail that day.

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • Woman who caused fatal crash enters plea agreement

    A Mount Vernon woman who caused a two-car crash the night before Thanksgiving in November 2013 that killed 58-year-old Darlene Woods entered into a plea agreement Friday that amended a murder charge against her to second-degree manslaughter.

    August 1, 2014

  • 0801 Outside of Bolton home at 330 Ott Road FOR WEB.jpg House heavily damaged in Moore Hill fire

    Roger Bolton said the structure fire that heavily damaged his home in Moore Hill early Thursday morning was bad. But it could have been much worse.

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • ‘Flex Program’ to earn high school diploma offered by Corbin schools

    For some students, the dream of earning a high school diploma can be out of reach because of various reasons beyond their control.
    But a new program to help students obtain that coveted diploma is being offered by the Corbin Independent Schools.

    August 1, 2014

  • Mobile mammography center to visit Corbin next week

    What’s 39 feet long, rides down the road, stops in stores across the Southeastern United States, and can help save lives in the fight against breast cancer?

    August 1, 2014

  • Most of Ky. 1259 to be reduced to one lane

    If you drive Scuffletown Road (Ky. 1259) in Corbin for the next two weeks, be prepared for some delays.

    August 1, 2014

  • Trial for Tristan Hall postponed

    The trial for a man facing charges in two separate cases in Whitley County has been postponed.

    August 1, 2014

  • TODAY'S HEADLINES — Aug. 1, 2014

    Jones presented with Purple Heart, Medal of Honor

    Woman who caused fatal crash enters plea agreement

    House heavily damaged in Moore Hill fire

    ‘Flex Program’ to earn high school diploma offered by Corbin schools

    August 1, 2014

  • 0731 Brad Connell & Amanda Matthews at Sanders Park FOR WEB.jpg Made to honor

    While lunch hour traffic on Main Street headed north Wednesday, Amanda Matthews and Brad Connell were putting the final touches on their latest work of art.
    Inside Sanders Park — a place where visitors and local residents alike can stop to rest, as well as to honor the Corbin man who brought Kentucky Fried Chicken to the world — five large plaques had just been installed.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • Man wanted for stealing vehicle

    A Williamsburg man considered “possibly armed and dangerous” continues to be sought by officers with the Williamsburg Police Department.

    July 31, 2014