Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

November 25, 2012

Local taxing districts mirror state trend

‘Ghost Government’ operating without any real oversight from elected officials

Carrie Stambaugh
The Independent

ASHLAND — Special taxing districts in Kentucky take in about $1 billion annually in tax revenues and fees but spend $2.7 billion each year collectively without any real public oversight by elected officials, according to a new report out by Adam Edelen, Kentucky’s Auditor of Public Accounts. The report is the first of its kind on the more than 1,268 special taxing districts in the state, which Edelen has refered to as Kentucky’s “Ghost Government.” 

In June, his office launched the massive Citizen Auditor’s initiative aimed at collecting basic organizational and financial information on each special taxing district and publishing it in a public online database for tax payers. The site, CitizenAuditor.ky.gov was launched last week at the same time Edelen’s initial report was published.

The results of what’s being called the “most massive effort in the history of the auditor’s office” are startling. According to the report, “In 117 of our 120 counties, taxpayers collectively pay more to these special districts than they do to their elected county governments.” A full 50 percent of special taxing districts with annual budgets over $750,000 did not have required yearly audits and 40 percent of districts failed to submit any budget information to their respective fiscal courts and 15 percent did not file Uniform Financial Information Reports with the state Department of Local Government.

According to an examination of the database, local special taxing districts in Boyd, Carter and Greenup Counties largely mirrored the statewide trend in that many are not in full compliance with reporting and financial requirements.

Greenup County

According to the State Auditor’s office, Greenup County has 17 special districts. Of those, only four completed and turned in all the information to the auditors office and are listed as being in complete compliance. They are: Boyd and Greenup County Sanitation District No. 1, the Greenup County Conservation District, Greenup County Public Library and the Maloneton Volunteer Fire Department.

Three agencies, the Appalachian Foothills Housing Agency, the Boyd County Greenup Riverport Authority and the Lloyd Volunteer Fire Department failed to submit any documentation to the Auditor’s office and are listed as being non-compliant.

The remaining 10 agencies submitted some, but not all, of the documentation the auditor’s office asked for. The Ashland Regional Airport Board, the Eastern Greenup County Ambulance District, Greenup County Cooperative Extension District, Greenup County Public Health Department, Little Sandy Fire Department, Load Volunteer Fire Department, Northeast Kentucky Regional Industrial Authority, Oldtown Volunteer Fire Department, South Shore Fire Department and Wurtland Fire Department.

Boyd County

Boyd County has 20 special taxing districts, according to the auditor’s office and had a much better compliance rate than other surrounding counties.

Only two agencies failed to turn in any materials to the auditor’s office. They were: The Boyd County Tourism Commission and the Greenup Boyd Riverport Authority.

Three other agencies, the Westwood Fire Department, Ashland Housing Authority and Boyd County Cooperative Extension District did not turn in all the requested materials.

Fifteen agencies were listed as in complete compliance with the auditor’s office. they are: Big Sandy Fire Department, Big Sandy Water District, Boyd County Ambulance District, Boyd County Conservation District, Boyd County Library District, Boyd County Public Health Department, Boyd County Sanitation District No. 2, Boyd County Sanitation District 4, Cannonsburg Fire Department, Cannonsburg Water District, East Fork Fire Department, England Hill Fire Department, Fivco Area Development District, Fivco Solid Waste District, and Summit-Ironville Fire Department.

Carter County

By contrast, Carter County has the smallest number of special districts compared to its neighbors, but has fewer in compliance with the auditor’s office.

The Carter County Cooperative Extension District and Northeast Kentucky Community Action Agency are the only two listed in complete compliance. The Olive Hill Housing Authority is the only agency that did not submit any information to the auditor’s office.

The Carter County Conservation District, the Carter County Emergency Ambulance Service and the Carter County Health Taxing District failed to submit their budgets to the auditor’s office in time for publication. The Rattlesnake Ridge Water District did not complete the auditor’s survey but did submit their budget.

Over the coming weeks and months, The Independent will be examining the non-compliant special taxing districts, gathering basic information about these districts, who is running them, how much revenue they collect and how they spent it.

CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at cstambaugh@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2653.