Journal-Times (Grayson, KY)

March 20, 2013

HB 1 a good start with special districts


March 20, 2013 —     Kentuckians haven’t had much to cheer about in the 2013 legislative session. It appears that some vital issues won’t be addressed in the final two days later this month.

    But we can take heart in what happened with House Bill 1 which became law on a 98-0 vote in the House and a 36-0 tally in the Senate.

    Differences between the two chambers had to be worked out at the last moment but compromise for the sake of consensus worked in the public’s favor this time, in our opinion.

    Once the bill is signed into law and takes effect, it will start to bring order to the oversight of more than 1,200 special districts in the state – units of local government that do everything from running our public libraries to purifying our drinking water to saving our lives with emergency medical assistance.

    State Auditor Adam Edelen deserves most of the credit for daring to expose what he aptly described as “ghost government” which spends about $2.7 billion annually in taxes and fees and holds $1.3 billion in cash reserves.

    This won’t be the last we will hear of special districts in Frankfort but it should mean an end to surprises that show up on billing statements.

    Henceforth, all such districts will have to report annual budgets to a centralized authority and post them on a state website.

    More importantly, none will be allowed to raise taxes or user fees without a public hearing conducted with elected local governmental bodies like city councils and fiscal courts.

    Districts that don’t comply with the new oversight rules will be subject to compliance audits by Edelen’s office, the cost of which will be borne by the districts themselves.

    We also like the requirement that members of district boards will be required to adopt a code of ethics and acknowledge that it’s not OK to secretly hire your relatives or friends or to buy goods and services from them.

    Fortunately, the state auditor and this newspaper found no examples of mismanagement or waste in reviewing the practices of special districts in Carter County.

    Granted, not all of our districts have taxing authority but those that do apparently are following the rules.

    In Carter County, as in all of Kentucky, shedding light on the inner workings of special districts shows the overwhelming majority of their board members are honest, hard working citizens who volunteer countless hours to serve their neighbors.

    HB 1, hopefully, now puts everyone on the same path.