A few questions and perhaps some reasonable answers

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Column by Ben Sheroan, editor

By Ben Sheroan

Newsrooms are full of questions. In the past week or so, a few questions in particular stirred new thinking. After some research and study, it's time to share three of them here.

Before I attempt to share my answers, please remember this is the Opinion page. My answers reflect my opinions. Your reality may differ.

Question 1: Why do city and county government property tax rates remain the same or decline while school taxes keep going up?

More specifically, this question was expressed as how do school boards get away with constantly raising taxes?

One of the key differences, in my view at least, is who leads the budget processes. For municipal and county governments, an elected official leads the process. For schools, an appointed educator is in charge.

It's natural that educators hold positions of school system leadership. It's equally natural that professional educators concern themselves first and foremost with the best way to educate students. They don't necessarily think first about the most economical way to complete that task. When you don't directly answer to voters, property tax rates don't have the same influence.

Since passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act, elected members of the school board have no control over hiring decisions, except the selection of a superintendent. When control is reduced, so is influence.

In essence, today's school boards are held responsible for every outcome but besides voting on construction matters and approving policy changes truly have little authority to bring about change.

On the other hand, elected officials - many who come from the business community — direct the city and county budget processes. That means tax rates have more influence on their thinking.

Question 2: How is it fair for local government to tax auto insurance, which the state government mandates?

You are forced to buy a policy in order to license your vehicle and many cities, including Radcliff and Elizabethtown, tax insurance premiums.

That question may have gone unasked before because of timing. The insurance premium tax available to local government was approved by the General Assembly nearly three decades before minimum auto insurance became a legal requirement.

It may seem unfair or even illegal but don't look for anything to change on its own. The courts won't examine the law without a complaint and filing a lawsuit to take on government is costly.

Another means to revise the system could come through the General Assembly. First, people have to explain their objections well, convince a legislator or two to lead the charge and watch the slow process of lawmaking to unfold.

Before that happens, you'll pay a lot more insurance premium tax. In Elizabethtown, for example, the city collects roughly $3 million annually from life, auto and liability policies which all goes directly to the fire department fund. That covers less than half of what the city spends annually on fire services.

Question 3: Considering all the region's health issues, including childhood obesity, should a community promote the excesses exhibited in a competitive eating contest?

Personally, the Major League Eating competition planned as part of Radcliff Days next weekend seems like a curious attraction and a fun thing to watch.

Maybe it needs to come clearly packaged with a "don't-try-this-at-home" warning. No one is recommending 30 chicken wings and 65 hard-boiled eggs as a meal plan. It's just an exhibition of superhuman ingestion.

But it does illustrate another point in my mind. It goes to the reason that cities take a special risk getting involved in festival promotion. Just as elected officials feel an obligation to voters to control tax rates, they also can feel pressure to satisfy any and every person's opinion. Sometimes there's no right answer that suits everyone.

What's fun to one group can be inappropriate to another. If a promoter is at fault, the insulted groups don't expect to be heard. If it's a publicly sponsored event, political pressure can mount.

That's the Catch 22 in today's questions. Politics works very well to ensure government responds to our needs and desires in some ways. It struggles in other ways. And that ongoing discussion is why Opinion pages exist.

Ben Sheroan is editor of The News-Enterprise. He can be reached at 270-505-1764 or bsheroan@thenewsenterprise.com.