Nov. 21, 2012 — State Auditor Adam Edelen is doing a great service for the taxpayers of Kentucky in his bold exposure of the weaknesses of existing laws and regulations governing special districts.
Those little known units of local government that levy taxes or collect fees for services totaling more than $2.7 billion annually have virtually no oversight requirements.
And the few that do have them apparently don’t pay any attention to being held accountable for the public’s money.
The auditor’s staff spent six months wading through hundreds of laws and regulations and gleaning records to identify a starting list of 1,268 special districts.
That online list (citizenauditor.ky.gov) will change over the next several months as some are added and others removed.
Seven special districts are listed for Carter County and the Journal-Times will be examining each of them in a series of articles in the coming weeks.
Statewide, Auditor Edelen is doing an outstanding job of framing these critically important public policy questions.
That means the 138 members of the General Assembly must be equal to the task of finding answers to those questions, starting in the 2013 session in January.
It seems obvious that many special districts in Kentucky do their work honestly and diligently and that the vast majority of individuals who serve on their boards are good citizens.
But as we have seen on several occasions in recent months, access to public funds with little or no oversight can become a temptation to break the rules.
We were shocked by the disclosure that 447 of the special districts, responsible for $460 million in tax revenues, have never been audited.
More than 500 districts are not submitting required yearly financial statements to the Kentucky Department for Local Government.
The auditor found that some of the more than 1,000 state laws affecting special districts were written more than a century ago.
In our opinion, the legislature must begin immediately to modernize the laws that apply to special districts.
We support the auditor’s recommendations to establish a single online registry for each district to report its uniform financial records.
Citizens who serve on special district boards should be subject to ethics laws and be trained in open records and open meetings requirements.
We also like the idea of having a process for auditing special districts that don't want to follow the new rules.
Kentucky’s taxpayers deserve nothing less.