- Special Sections
- Public Notices
I moved to Kentucky in 2008 when the economy crashed. It was time for our family to live by a budget to avoid our own fiscal cliff. Each of us puts our receipts into a jar. At the end of the month, we painstakingly open the lid and review each receipt to match our credit card statements and to see how we are doing in meeting our budgeted expenses.
By careful examination, we discovered unauthorized charges. We also realized that certain months we had to spend less to stay within our budget. Planning for the future and accounting for it today is our reality.
Families all across Kentucky have to do more with less. We are tightening our belts and so should government. Each of us needs to pressure our state legislators to do the right thing this session when it comes to special taxing districts.
We need to wake up and notice that these little districts sure add up and cost us dearly in taxes.
We pay $2.7 billion on special districts every year and about $1.3 billion more of our money is being held in reserves. Special districts spend more in taxes than county governments except in three counties. They provide special public services such as fire districts, libraries and roads.
No elected official – not one – is directly responsible for approving or overseeing this money.
No elected official is responsible for approving special district budgets, debt load or tax rates.
So, you see, this makes it really easy for elected officials to blame “someone else” for taxes. The current system was designed by elected officials to allow every elected official in the state to hide from tax increases.
In America, we pride ourselves on having an elected government to represent our interests and make the hard decisions. We vote for people who deal with the tough issues. We need strong leaders who take a stand. Elected officials should be approving special districts’ budgets and tax rates, and they should be counting the money in a broader context for public planning of scarce public resources.
Good news is our state legislators seem to be making this a priority. They should consider the following solutions this session:
Some officials only might be willing to approve creation of a statewide database of special districts. That alone will cure the problem. It can be a helpful tracking tool but if it is too costly or presents misleading information to the public, it will make the problem we have worse.
Politicians cannot delegate regulatory authority to a database.
A database is not going to ask tough questions of special district board members in a public setting. A database is not going to analyze or punish special district board members for negative findings in audit reports. A database is not going to approve rates. A database is not going to approve whether a special district should incur debt. A database is not going to recommend other sources of financing. A database is not going to reduce redundant or inefficient spending practices.
If the database only shows whether special districts filed reports, it will not be helpful. It’s the substance of the reports that is essential and elected officials need to be studying them, holding public meetings about them and making these documents a part of the public record.
Contact your legislator. Ask that he or she muster up the courage to take the lid off the jar to examine special district receipts before approving further expenses. Families all across Kentucky are doing some version of this, why can’t they?
Cheryl Avioli was hired to study special districts for Kentucky Auditor Adam Edelen and offers this viewpoint. She was a commissioner on the Public Service Commission in New York before moving to Kentucky.